ALYNDA LEE SEGARRA
Alynda Lee Segarra:
Meet the Hurray For The Riff Raff frontwoman
Country music has never been cool. I really like country music. I’ll argue against the ropes for its inherent queerness. I have a friend who switches the TV off at the slightest whiff of a six-stringed guitar. I am not that person. I am the person who asks the Uber driver to turn up Country FM.
Cut to me, very excited to be sharing a green room with Alynda Lee Segarra of Hurray For The Riff Raff before their Leicester show. Along with artists like Alabama Shakes, HFTRR form part of a movement politicising country music. With its chequered nationalist history, does Segarra see herself as working within a country tradition or queering it?
“There’s the country world and then there’s the folk world and I’m somewhere in-between. I see myself as one of the outsiders of country music.”
Is the new album going to make the country fans happy?
“I’m breaking away a bit with this album. I’m still myself – it’s not techno! But I’m trying to break out because the country world is still really straight, it’s still really white, it’s still very conservative.”
We talk about the he recent protests eruptingpting in America and the UK and I ask Alynda whether hether she feels the protest st song has a place in the world right now?
“I don’t believe that a song is going to change the world anymore. And that’s really hard for me to deal with as a musician because I want to make people question their hate.”
How does your identity feed into thehe music you make?
“I’m at the intersection of a lot of different identities. I’m not black, I’m not white, I’m not straight, I’m not gay, so people tend to project who they are on to me. It’s exhausting! Eventually, I decided to make music for people to help them face the day and energise them in their struggle to be free.” That sounds like a manifesto to me! Which artists help you get up in the morning? “Kendrick Lamar. And Beyoncé. It took me a while to get down with Beyoncé. But recently I was going through a hard time and I was like, ‘ I cant deny this’. I know she’s a billionaire, she’s one of the 1% but what she’s doing is out of this world! It makes me cry. I would listen to Grown Woman on repeat. It overwhelmed me! We’re not told this on the regular – that as women we are adults and we can do whatever the fuck we want.” Segarra does some grown womaning of her own on the upcoming album. “I feel like I’m out there on my own for the first time,” she says, describing the making of The Navigator. “It’s scary.” “The album is about what happens to a city when it pushes out people of colour,” she tells me. “It’s about ancestral pain and my own connec connection with the past.” Gent Gentrification seems to be th the leitmotif of the new record. “I feel like I’ve lost N New York,” the singer prono pronounces powerfully. Seg Segarra, more than most, is investedinv in safeguardi ing the future of New York’s soul. She is the daughter of former deputy mayor Ninfa Segarra and was raised by her aunt in the Bronx projects. At 17 she ran away to hop freight trains in a move be befitting a country tr troubadour. What does h home mean to someo one with notoriously i itchy feet? “Home is commun nity for me.” Segarra hasn’t lived in New York for years. Pe Perhaps it’s only pos- sible to see home from the outside? Segarra is certainly a cheerleader for outsiders, from the many forced outside by gentrification to those currently being expelled from Donald Trump’s America. We discuss feeling exhausted by the ever- dystopic news and Alynda moots: “I know who I’m against but who am I for?”
“As female musicians, we are told don’t love yourself too much,” she continues. “Queer people are taught that and so are people of colour. We are taught to make ourselves small because we might make somebody uncomfortable.”
Quite improbably, self- care for
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Segarra is bingeing on stand-up. “I think comedians can change people’s minds. I’m not so sure about folk singers…,” she side- eyes.
But if it’s music we’re discussing, it’s always Ms Nina Simone. I suggest there’s something similar about the two artists. Nina Simone screwed with music. She took an old song and made it into a mountain lion. Segarra’s the same; her version of Jealous Guy is really something else.
“Now John Lennon is problematic but a Puerto Rican queer woman singing John Lennon? It’s powerful when underrepresented people take these left-behind songs and turn them into protest anthems,” she suggests. “We should do it more because people coopt our shit all the time!”
The roots rhythm rises from behind the paper-thin walls and I sense that Segarra has to go heed her calling. But hold up, I have a final question. There’s a song of hers that is dear to me and in it she pines for a southern belle who is “always on her mind”. I have to ask – who is the south Louisiana girl of Good Time Blues?
“Ha! I don’t even know! Sometimes it’s me. I’m not sure she really exists. Honestly, I think I was pretending to be Gillian Welch with that lyric.”
Is there in fact a girl, anywhere in the world?
“Yes, funny you should say that…,” she begins as her tour manager walks in. And we wrap up, me sufficiently teased.
I miss the gig because of my own need to hop a train. But Segarra does gift me a sound- check before I go. “This is for my friend over there,” she says as Good Time Blues kicks in. And I admit, as she reaches that fateful line I do feel a pang or two of jealousy for the girl in south Louisiana – even if she is made up. The Navigator is out now.
“As female musicians, we are told: don’t love yourself too much”
“Home is community for me,” says Hurray For The Riff Raff’s Alynda Lee Segarra