Alynda Lee Segarra:

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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


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

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