Through this cinematic concept album, singer and songwriter Segarra takes us on a journey from New York to Puerto Rico
There are thousands of albums which tackle social issues head-on. There are also plenty of albums which have tight and beautiful melodies. However, there are only a few albums which successfully pull off both Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On is one which instantly comes to mind. With The Navigator, Hurray for the Riff Raff have produced an album that sits in the sphere of carrying weighty lyrics and sounding stunning at the same time.
The Navigator is a missing link in the story of Alynda Segarra, singer and songwriter for Hurray for the Riff Raff. Following the release of four albums worth of folksy, roots conscious music from her adoptive home town of New Orleans, Segarra started to get restless. “The more I toured, ending up in the middle of nowhere bars from Texas to Tennessee,” said Segarra, “I just started feeling more and more like, I don’t belong here, I gotta get back to my people, you know?”
Segarra’s musical career began when she ran away from home at the young age of 17, busking for survival and channelling Woody Guthrie, Memphis Minnie and Ma Rainey. However, being a Puerto Rican kid from the Bronx, she realised she had her own compelling story to tell.
The Navigator is a concept album and follows ‘The Navigator’, aka Navita Milagros Negrόn, a street child who grows up in a city not unlike New York, becomes a wandering soul and then has an urge to reconnect and honour her ancestors.
The rhythmic elements on songs such as Nothing’s Gonna Change That Girl and Rican Beach immediately transport the listener to the Caribbean. For the recording sessions, Segarra assembled a strong team of percussionists, including Kansas City based Juan Carlos Chaurand and Devendra Banhart’s drummer Gregory Rogove to play everything from Cuban, Puerto Rican and Brazilian beats.
Alynda Segarra’s voice is a successful vehicle for delivering the important messages of the album. At one moment she is world weary, then fearsome, then an edge of vulnerability emerges. Segarra, or rather her alter ego Navita, is a rebel who wants people to stand behind her, yet is burdened by a naivety and a yearning for another world. She sings about urban gentrification, of Trump supporters who want to: “build a wall and keep them out.” The album rides the thin line between the apocalypse and a world of hope. Behind Segarra the ramshackle band clings on, waiting to see where they’ll be taken next.
The Navigator is a refreshing homecoming for Hurray for the Riff Raff. The concept of the album from starting in a city similar to New York and taking us to Puerto Rico is a commentary on the band’s musical journey. I’m just glad they have taken us along for the ride.
Verdict: A cinematic and compelling concept album