When singer-songwriter Alynda Segarra moved to New Orleans from the Bronx 13 years ago, she hit the ground running with her music and her band, Hurray for the Riff Raff. One EP, two self-released albums, one live album and five full-length albums later, she’s using her voice for other things.
Last year, her music video for “Pa’lante,” which highlights the struggle of a working class family after the devastation of Hurricane Maria, won Best Music Video at the SXSW Film Festival. The lyrics were stunning in their strength and simplicity. “I just want to go to work and get back home and be something. I just want to fall in line and do my time and be something. I just want to prove my worth on the planet Earth and be something.” As Bob Boilen of NPR beautifully put it, “as Soul Captain for Hurray for the Riff Raff, she and her band weave tales of man’s inhumanity to fellow humans, often from bigotry, intolerance and ignorance.”
Last night, at Cafe Istanbul in New Orleans, she tackled a worthy cause, partnering with the Louisiana Advocates for Immigrants in Detention (LA-AID) to raise awareness and funds for asylum seekers. The show featured Ani DiFranco, Jordan Hyde, Willy Gantrim, Leyla Sarah, Walt McClements, Shaye Cohn and People Museum.
This wasn’t just a night of pretty songs to raise funds. This was a night of impassioned pleas to take action. Alyndra explained, “I started visiting people in detention. I thought, ‘I’ve never done anything like this before; I play guitar.’ But to be around people who say, ‘I will do whatever I can. I want to be an advocate for you. I want to work together with you’ — it’s changed the way I look at the world. The love in my heart has expanded. Thank you to Louisiana Aid. Thank you for saying, ‘We’re regular people and we care about this and let’s do something together. Let’s offer whatever we can.’”
Ani DiFranco chose to perform a moving call to action by Anais Mitchell. “Who do we call the enemy? The enemy is poverty. Because we have and they have not, my children. Because they want what we have got. What do we have that they should want? We have work and they have none and our work is never done.”
When introducing her heart-wrenching song “Body Electric,” Alynda beautifully stated, “This is a song that I hope one day will not be timely. I hope people will say, ‘What was that about?’ Because things will be so good.”
I spoke to Julie Norman, the Volunteer Visitation Coordinator for LA-AID, to find out what else we can do, directly, to offer help. “We need visitor advocates, translators for many different languages, people showing up when we, or other groups, have protests or advocacy actions around immigration policies. We need volunteers to raise funds for the detainees’ commissary accounts, funds that they can use to buy necessities like band aids, supplementary food, toilet paper.”
This was a powerful night of music, combined with a battlecry for change. The audience was passionately singing along. “I can’t tell you how good it feels to be home and with people who care about each other,” ended Alynda. “Thank you New Orleans.”