• Journal

Art and Activism with Alynda Segarra

We talk with Alynda Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff about how New Orleans became her home and the challenges and urgency of modern times.

Photo: Michael Tucker

We talk with Alynda Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff about how New Orleans became her home and the challenges and urgency of modern times.

After you left the Bronx and travelled for some time - what made New Orleans feel like the place you’d make home?

I arrived in New Orleans when I was 17. After almost a year of traveling the country by freight train and hitchhiking, I caught a ride in a van with some friends. The first place we went was the Abbey, and the minute I stepped out of the van I felt like I'd entered another reality. I had longed for a place that hadn’t been eaten alive by strip malls, stripped of its character and the people who created culture. Growing up in the Bronx I watched as the city I loved was vanishing before my eyes. It killed me – I knew I’d never be able to afford living in New York. I left home to try and find a life for myself, and when I arrived in New Orleans music opened itself to me. I needed to support myself somehow and I had a washboard, so I started scratching on it with some friends who played guitar and fiddle on Decatur and in Jackson Square at night. We felt like we were not polished enough to play on Royal during the day, so we would try the nighttime crowd. We formed a band and started riding trains and going on tours around the south. When the storm hit I was busking in Montreal; I was crushed. The city meant so much to me. It was then that I realized it had become my home.

“I had longed for a place that hadn’t been eaten alive by strip malls, stripped of its character and the people who created culture.”

A lot has changed since you moved here – so what keeps you here?

The music, the spirits, the radical imagination, and the fearlessness is what I respect about New Orleans and why it is my home.

What criticisms do you have for present-day New Orleans?

I do not want to live in a Instagram simulation of New Orleans. I watched it happen in the city I grew up in and loved with everything in me. The folks who create the culture are pushed out as the wealthy and privileged create a Disneyland based off of the creations of black, brown and working class people. I want to see more money benefiting the folks who created the magic of this city and less fucking Airbnb's.

“We are living in dangerous and exhausting times...I try to learn from the artists and activists who left behind works of art in what felt like impossible times.”

How’s it been for you speaking up more often on today’s issues?

We are living in dangerous and exhausting times. I have used songwriting as a tool to examine the world around me since I first began writing. These days it is a constant onslaught of outrage and sorrow. I try to learn from the artists and activists who left behind works of art in what felt like impossible times – Nina Simone, James Baldwin, Julia De Burgos, Sylvia Rivera, Frida Kahlo. I turn to their work when I feel lost and depleted.

What would you say to those who feel it’s time for them to speak up?

    I believe all of us were born in this time for a reason. First off: It is our time to heal the pain of our ancestors. It is time to heal the wounds they have inflicted and it is time to heal the wounds they endured. When we heal ourselves and our trauma we heal those before and those to come.

    But I have thought a lot about how our empathy and compassion is being tested as a country and in the world. I believe in radical empathy and love, which means it is not enough to go to yoga and have a self care day. It is time to be brave and courageous in your empathy. Children are in danger. Our legacy as a generation is on the line. We must act in our humanity, we must be brave and unafraid to ruffle feathers or become complacent. We are future ancestors and we have a responsibility to leave this world in a better condition than how we inherited it.

    How are you working as an activist outside of music?

      I enjoy bringing people together. I have organized two events called Nosotros. A gathering of latinx artists, musicians and poets, an event where we can embrace who we are as latinx queers, activists and weirdos. In a country that has become more violent towards latinx people and culture, I believe celebrating together is a radical act of joy.

      Play on Spotify: Pa'lante
      “We must act in our humanity, we must be brave and unafraid to ruffle feathers or become complacent. We are future ancestors and we have a responsibility to leave this world in a better condition than how we inherited it.”

      Who is inspiring you right now? Any recent favorite books or films?

      I’m becoming more interested in film. The no wave art movement in late 70’s-80’s New York has been a big inspiration to me lately. The idea of creating when you feel the world is ending is important. Queer punk art has always been my lifeline and I am happy to witness so much being created in New Orleans. Finally, I am inspired by immigrant activists who are putting their heart and souls into fighting for justice. The border angels, KIND: who represent children in immigration court and Mijente.

      What’s next?

      I will be working on writing a new album and learning how to garden.


         
         
         
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