Hurray for the Riff Raff Credit: Sarrah Danziger

Thanks to icons such as Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, and Joni Mitchell, the pop-culture stereotype is that most folk musicians are white. But that image has always been a deceptive one, and today numerous artists like Rhiannon Giddens, Valerie June, and Haley Heynderickx are following in the footsteps of POC folk greats like Odetta and Josh White, reminding audiences that the genre has always been a place for any number of voices and perspectives. One of the most innovative of this new crop of musicians is Hurray for the Riff Raff’s Alynda Segarra, a Puerto Rican-American performer born in New York and now based in New Orleans. Her 2013 record My Dearest Darkest Neighbor (This Is American Music) was a stirring expansion of the definition of folk music; Segarra and her band placed songs by performers like Billie Holiday and John Lennon next to traditional tunes so that all American popular music seemed set to the same old-timey swing. Her most recent release, 2017’s The Navigator (ATO), takes that approach even further in a loose concept album about Puerto Rico. On songs such as “Hungry Ghost” Segarra shows she’s as comfortable nicking Bruce Springsteen melodies as she is incorporating Latin percussion into her music. And on “Rican Beach,” she sings with her distinctive quaver over a stinging guitar line, “They stole our language / And they stole our speech / And they left us to die on Rican Beach,” reclaiming her heritage and basking in folk’s tradition of protest and rock squall all at once. For Segarra, folk isn’t corny or out-of-date; it’s the music of everyone: sophisticates, scruffy riffraff, and those who are both at once. That’s worth a hurray.   v