THE NAVIGATOR – HOORAY FOR THE RIFF RAFF (2016)
When I first heard Alynda Segarra singing “Hungry Ghost,” I was immediately taken by a haunting quality that underpinned what was a fairly catchy tune. As soon as I was able to, I listened to the album it came from, The Navigator, credited to Segarra’s band Hooray for the Riff Raff.
I found that the initial impression was no fluke. There was a beauty that came from her blending of very traditional American folk rock with her Puerto Rican ancestry. But that concept of the “hungry ghost” was never too far removed from even the most upbeat songs. I felt like Bob Dylan’s Mr. Jones. There was something going on here, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was.
It turned out to be an ambitious, searching epic about where one comes from and where one is going. You don’t need to know the story arc of Segarra’s alter-ego protagonist who is making this journey throughout the 12 tracks of The Navigator. I certainly didn’t.
You can enjoy the eclectic mix of styles from Woody Guthrie to salsa, which never loses a sense of melody. You can enjoy Segarra’s assured vocals and the contributions – especially from multiple percussionists – that drive even the gentler tunes forward. But if you dig a little deeper, you will learn a great story – one that is worthy of graphic novels and stage production. In fact, last year, Segarra teamed up with playwright C. Julian Jimenez to do just that. Bring it to the stage that is.
Though the position Latin immigrants found themselves in back in 2016 was an obvious political influence on the way The Navigator was perceived (there is one specific reference to building a wall), this wasn’t simply a political statement for Segarra. It is a deeply personal document about the shared humanity of any group of people who find themselves moving. Toward something, or away from something, this is a universal message of the necessity of navigation in an increasingly unmoored world. You don’t have to be a Puerto Rican in the Bronx to recognize that truth.