Cover photo by Terry Bruce Herring
Since releasing her debut album ‘Fight For You’ (2017) Raye Zaragoza has been titled a protest singer, and she is fine with that. Injustice and inequality inspire her to write songs that can power protesters in their fights for nature and fellow people. But Raye is also more than just a protest singer as she explains in the interview below. She tackles anything that inspires her with an enormously soothing voice and vulnerable honesty. Raye was kind enough to take time while on tour to answer a few questions about her music and activism.
First off, for those not familiar with your work, who is Raye Zaragoza?
“Hi everyone! I’m an LA-based, New York City-born singer-songwriter. My latest album Fight For You is a collection of songs of social justice and finding your voice. I’m very passionate about writing about topics that are not talked about in mainstream music such as politics and indigenous rights.”
How and when did you get into making music?
“I started writing songs in my late teenage years, but I’ve been singing and playing guitar since I was 12. In middle school, I had a little band with my friends and we played Avril Lavigne and Vanessa Carlton songs at local restaurants in Hell’s Kitchen, New York (where I lived in my pre-teen years). I grew up doing musical theater, and always knew I wanted to be a performer, but it wasn’t until my late teenage years that I realized being a singer-songwriter is what I always wanted to be doing.”
When did you realise you could use your music to spread messages of protest or activism?
“Although I had written some social justice songs before this, I really started writing songs with an activist message during the Standing Rock movement. During that time I realized how much a song can comfort and inspire people who are fighting injustice. Speaking up can be a vulnerable and scary thing, and music can truly make you feel stronger and not alone. Many of my songs from Fight For You were written about Standing Rock and my journey there.”
How do you feel people are receiving your political music these days?
“With the exception of the expected occasional backlash, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s really been amazing to hear stories about how the songs have comforted people in tough times.”
How important is it for you to send out a specific message in your music? Are all your songs tackling a political subject?
“No — not all of my songs are tackling a political message. I write songs about all kinds of subjects — like nature, love, heartbreak, New York City, California, and anything else that inspires me! I’ve definitely been labeled as a protest songwriter after this album, and although I don’t have a problem with that, it’s definitely not all I do. I like to write songs with light-hearted messages too!”
Do you find it hard to balance between being political and poetic in your lyrics?
“I think that’s exactly my favorite part about it — when the poetry meets the politics. When a verse or a line can help make sense of the madness around us. I feel like social justice music is really what keeps the movement moving and the activists inspired — so for me, even if it’s a challenge at times, finding the balance is the most rewarding part.”
How do you see the current music scene, is there an abundance of socially conscious music today or a lack of people using their voice and talent for good?
“I think there are definitely more and more artists speaking up through their music. I think regardless of whether an artist writes social justice songs or not, it’s very important to be vocal on their platforms. People look to artists for guidance and inspiration — so it’s important we share a positive message.”
What are some of your inspirations or favourite protest musicians out there, active or not?
Outside the music, do you partake in any other activism?
“Absolutely. Whenever I’m not on the road, I am very involved in my indigenous community in LA. Last year, I participated in the Run4Salmon, and March to Oak Flat — two indigenous rights causes very in need of support (everyone should look them up!). This year, I hope to return to both and continue to contribute to the protection of indigenous sites around the country.”
What is on the horizon for you?
“I am currently working on my next album that will be released in 2019. I am also touring around the US, Canada, and Europe for the rest of 2018!”
Thank you very much for participating and for the music you make. Anything else you’d like to shout from the rooftops?
“Thank you for having me! if you’re hearing of me for the first time, I hope to meet you at a live show soon!!!”
You can catch Raye currently on tour. Check out her webpage for further details.
Halldór is the managing editor of Shouts – Music from the Rooftops!, an investigative journalist, audio engineer and an animal rights activist on a nomad journey through Europe – still without a definite destination.