Alynda Segarra explores her Puerto Rican roots on ‘Navigator’

Ever since she left her native New York City at 17, Puerto Rican-descended Alynda Segarra has been a vagabond, hopping freight trains as she traveled across America trying to find herself and, as the bandleader for Hurray For the Riff Raff, her musical identity. Soon after she settled into a folky sound and community in New Orleans, the road called her home to the Bronx, where she delved into her people’s history on “The Navigator.” The concept album follows the street-smart protagonist Navita across a dystopian, gentrified city where the poor no longer matter. “It’s a future that’s not too far off,” she says.

You’ve been wearing a red beret in most recent photos. What’s the significance?

The beret comes from learning about the Young Lords in the ‘60s and ‘70s, this activist group of young Puerto Rican kids. I’m wearing that as a symbol of all the work that they’ve done. It was important for me, learning about the women of the Young Lords, and how focused they were on fighting sexism and homophobia. Puerto Rican women have been thinking outside of the box for a long time.

Your ballad “Pa’lante” was named for the Young Lords’ official newspaper, right?

Totally. But what I got from doing all this research was a really solid foundation of where I fit in, in the history of Puerto Rican artists, and especially NuYorican artists. Plus, my grandmother passed away last summer, and she was the matriarch of the family. And I suddenly saw how much work she did to get me ready to be this rambling kid, and to make the music that I make.

Many of your “Navigator” characters are straining against tethers, or societal shackles.

Yeah. I was listening to a lot of music that talked about growing up in the city. But how do you put into words the feeling of being born and thinking, “OK, this is it, huh? These are my limitations, and I’m not allowed to go outside of this area, or this idea of what I can do for a living.” There was a lot of that growing up in New York, so I really wanted to put those feelings into the music.

But they say that you can never go home again.

Well, I’m back in New Orleans now. I came crawling back a few months ago. So I agree with that. But going back to New York felt like it was really something important for me. I’d just turned 30, and I felt like I needed to revisit the place where I grew up, the city that raised me.


Hurray For the Riff Raff
Where: Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. June 11
Tickets: $25
Contact: (415) 346-6000,