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Protest Song Of The Week: ‘Rican Beach’ by Hurray For The Riff Raff

Editor’s Note

For Shadowproof’s long-running series, we are proud to feature this selection from music journalist Liz Pelly.
Anyone interested in contemporary protest music ought to know Alynda Segarra, the New York City folk singer who performs as Hurray for the Riff Raff.

“What does folk music mean to you? To me, it has always meant music that lifts the human spirit out of the terror and anguish of oppression,” Segarra wrote in a 2015 blog post. “It is the sound of the strength of humanity.” These values have played out across her discography, on songs like the anti-violence anthem “The Body Electric” and “Everybody Knows (For Trayvon Martin)“.

Segarra was born in the Bronx to a Puerto Rican family, and grew up immersed in the city’s punk shows and poetry clubs. At 17, she left home to hop freight trains across the country, eventually landing in New Orleans, where the local folk-punks taught her washboard, banjo, and vernacular song-sharing traditions.

Last month, Hurray for the Riff Raff released its sixth full-length, a concept album titled The Navigator. On the album, Segarra draws from folk and rock, bomba and salsa, doo-wop and soul to create a semi-autobiographical, two-act narrative following a street kid named Navita Milagros Negrón. Using this storyline, she reflects on her own childhood and Nuyorican roots, and makes chilling commentaries on immigration, cultural erasure, and gentrification.

The Navigator is full of poignant ballads, but “Rican Beach” is the most galvanizing protest anthem. On this song, Navita travels to the future, seeing a violently gentrified version of her own city where she recognizes nothing; its culture has been robbed of language, names, neighborhoods.

“She’s looking for her people, her neighborhood, and she ends up at Rican Beach, which is where they all are,” Segarra recently said, explaining the song to “Democracy Now!”. “It represents what happens when people are pushed out of the city that they helped create, this city that they’re responsible for the culture, and they’re responsible for the soul of the city.”

Backed by searing Latin riffs, a pulsing bass drum, hand percussion and strings, Segarra sings with defiance, “Now all the politicians, they just flap their mouths / They say we’ll build a wall to keep them out / And all the poets were dying of a silence disease / So it happened quickly and with much ease.”

You can take my life but don’t take my home / Baby it’s a solid price, it comes with my bones,” she continues.

Upon the song’s release, Segarra dedicated it to the people of Peñuelas, Puerto Rico, where communities are demanding clean water and an end to coal ash dumping,  as well as the water protectors of Standing Rock—crucially placing a discussion of urban gentrification within the history of colonialism and white supremacy.

It is a powerful statement told through powerful sounds.

Listen to Hurray For The Riff Raff’s “Rican Beach”:

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Are you an independent artist who has written and/or produced a protest song that you would like featured? Or do you have a favorite protest song? Submit a song to protestmusic@Shadowproof.com

A protester stands with a sign in front of an immigrant detention center in Aurora, Colorado, operated by the private prison company GEO Group. Photo by Justin Valas on Flickr
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Liz Pelly

Liz Pelly