For Alynda Lee Segarra, lead singer and songwriter of Hurray for the Riff Raff, The Navigator is a quasi-autobiographical album. Though written as a narrative for the fictional character Navita Milagros Negrón, the dualism between Segarra’s life, and the life of Navita is too obvious to have any doubt that Navita was formed as an alter-ego for Segarra, sharing almost identical childhoods.
Segarra was born and raised in The Bronx, New York, unique in that it is the only New York borough to possess a Hispanic majority. As a result of the massive Latin American diaspora, Segarra was not an ethnic outsider in her community, with the Puerto Rican population making up around 8.5% of the population in The Bronx. For this reason, Hurray for the Riff Raff’s lead singer found it particularly confusing when she was unable to identify with the culture in which she was raised. Feeling like an outsider, she frequented punk gigs and at the age of 17, left New York, traveling the states either on Greyhound buses, or as a Hitchhiker. Ultimately, she arrived in New Orleans – where she has said she feels most at home – and founded her current band, Hurray for the Riff Raff.
The experiences of Navita, described in the album, mirror Segerra’s own experiences, and provides a medium for her to express her feelings towards her childhood and individuality. The story runs from the point of view of Navita, who becomes disgruntled and unhappy, living in a city where she feels a lack of belonging. Calling life in the city “hard”, and citing her isolation as a reason for this, Navita wishes to live in world where she no longer knows the people she currently knows. Finding that she’s woken up 40 years on, Navita’s wish comes true. Following this occurrence, called the ‘First Act’ in a two act album by some music reviewers, Navita goes on a soul searching mission, engaging and interacting with the remnants of people she used to know. Ultimately, Navita finds her place on ‘Rican beach’, and comes to the realisation that her job in life is to retell the stories of her ancestors, keeping alive the culture of past Latin American generations living in North America.
The Navigator is predominantly Rock orientated, though hints of Segarra’s Latin American roots shine through in her music, with hints like folk, blues and country also popping up sporadically. The musical genres within the album serve as an underlying theme for the album, a kind of protest to the diminishing culture of immigrants in powerful nations. Segarra is disappointed to see the culture of her ancestors being drowned out in North America, and her music serves as a protest to this, incorporating aspects of her past ancestry in the album. The fusion of rock and Latin American music is highly successful, offering something different to the modern music scene, though it is by no means unique.
The album leads up to the most memorable track on the album: Pa-lante. Pa’lante is a shortening of Spanish phrase ‘Para Adelante’ which means ‘forward’. The apotheosis – or climax – of the album, Pa’lante is a culmination of the themes introduced previously. Navita urges her peers to make something of themselves, to fight against the struggles of life and the feelings of isolation which are experienced (though not exclusively) by the minorities living in or under the powerful nations. A general call to all people, Pa’lante is a great ending to a solid album, and only serves to cement its identity as an informal protest album.
The serious subject of the album serves to make it a decent listen without a clear understanding of its themes, but a good album with an understanding of the album’s motives. Though it is hard to look past the fact that some songs are clearly weaker than the others, a four star review is generous, but fair.
Artist: Hurray for the Riff Raff
Label: ATO Records
Release date: March 10, 2017
Play time: 40 mins
Standout track: Pa’lante