At Celtic Connections, Glasgow on Friday 20th January, in front of a fairly full hall in the Drygate brewery.
I went to see Alynda lee Segarra and her band “Hurray for the Riff Raff” because I heard her song “The Body Electric”. I also liked The Riff Raff’s rootsy style, but this tour seems to mark her musical move from New Orleans-style roots, blues, bluegrass, country music to overt protest music. Her new songs focus on her Puerto Rican identity. She also writes about violence against her friends, and discrimination, threatened minorities, and oppression in the USA.
Alynda Lee Segarra is a rising star, someone with a magical voice, rare passion and wonderful commitment to the songs she sings. She is also noted for singing/performing difficult, musically challenging songs very well.
She was wearing a black beret and occasionally raised a clenched fist (Shades of Che Guevara?) The bass player wore a grey t-shirt with the words “Not my President” in black across it.
The Riff Raff have been a while in the making, and among other things, they have been in their time a great covers band. I like their version of “Be my Baby” by the Ronettes during the 60’s more than any other I’ve heard. But her band is a re-shaped Riff Raff, a new more powerful electric band to give heavier support to her new material, and with it she could become the leading exponent of the “Music of the Resistance” against the Trump presidency which stretches out into the future.
Her band performed some songs from their new album “Navigator”
interspersed with the older “Blue Ridge Mountain” and the lovely “St Roch Blues”
A strong set was followed by an encore solo acoustic guitar performance of the 1940 Woody Guthrie protest song “This Land is your Land”. She choked up during the song at the lines “Nobody living can ever stop me, as I go marching that freedom highway, Nobody living can make me turn back, Cos’ this land was made for you and me” and her voice had a haunting quality to it that I can still hear in my head, several days later. Then there was the audience who understood what was happening and picked up the song and carried it all the way to the finish, to cheers and loud applause, and I suspect not a dry eye in the house as she stumbled and wavered but did not break.
Something happened on Friday night. Something I wasn’t expecting while I watched and listened to her, for in the new battle of American ideas old protest songs have been re-energised.
I heard a clear echo of America in the 1960’s again- protest about the Vietnam War, the Draft, women’s rights and the struggle for Human Rights, Martin Luther King, etc. But does this resonate more widely?
Woody Guthrie’s lyrics also chimed strongly with a sympathetic Glasgow audience, perhaps because of Scotland’s own struggle for Independence, equality and rights. They got that message all right, I thought as I left the concert.
The next morning on TV, I saw three-quarters of a million people protesting in LA against Trump. Is this what the USA has come to? Where do we go from here?