Identity is a prominent theme in so much music, yet as music writers we have a tendency to force it onto artists, we are often guilty of pigeon-holing them, even if it often comes from good intentions. At its best though identity becomes part of the music, it becomes part of the story the songwriter is trying to tell, which is the case with the fabulous Woman In Color, the new album from Raye Zaragoza. A New Yorker, Japanese-American, Mexican, indigenous woman, Raye pulls from all the strands of her identity, and embraces them, finding pride in the vast array of people’s experiences that came together to put her on this planet.
The follow-up to Raye’s 2017 debut, Fight For You, Woman In Color was recorded with acclaimed producer Tucker Martine, and saw Raye call on an array of collaborators including the likes of Colin Meloy and Laura Veirs. The result is a beautifully produced record, Raye’s lyrical missives set-to an array of perfectly judged backings, shifting from lush alt-country portraits to stripped back folkier numbers. At the heart throughout is Raye’s stunning vocals, always mixed high allowing her words to shine out, whether dissecting America’s, very white, beauty standards on the almost theatrical, The It Girl, or paying tribute to the forgotten indigenous women, victims of murder and kidnapping and often never found, on Red. That Raye has been labelled a protest singer previously, will come as no surprise, particularly on the compelling, They Say, where channelling the likes of Hurray For The Riff Raff or Lilah Larson, Raye pulls apart the musical gate-keepers with a biting critique, “they say that folk music’s for the elite, the wise and the old with a college degree, a forty dollar ticket and a fifteen dollar drink”, before sticking it to the establishment at large, “they say that healthcare will never come cheap but you’ll do fine if you just stay healthy. If you can’t make rent, then get another job, they say that happiness is for those that work hard”. There’s something quite magical about Woman In Color, it feels like the sound of a person learning who they are, the history that made them, their place in the present day and the glimmer of hope the future offers, in Raye Zaragoza’s hands it looks very bright indeed.
FTR: For those who don’t know, who Raye Zaragoza?
Hey everyone! I’m Raye. I live in Long Beach, CA but was born and raised in New York City. My father is Native American & Mexican, and my Mom is an immigrant from Japan. Many of my songs are inspired by my experience as a woman of color in America. Through my music, I try to comment on the world around me through the lens of my own unique multicultural experience. When I am not writing & playing music, I am roller skating down the streets of Long Beach!
FTR: What can you remember about your first show?
The first show I ever played as a singer-songwriter was the North Hollywood farmer’s market when I was 19 (8 years ago). They told me I could play from 9am-noon. I had only written 3 songs at that point, and knew just a handful of covers. My plan was to play those 6-8 songs over and over again for three hours! It was a little bit of a disaster. But I had a blast!
FTR: Why do you make music? Why not another art form?
That is a great question! I grew up acting and performing in musical theater. I always knew I wanted to be a performer but I hated performing other people’s material. I also hated the rehearsal process! I’ve been a music fan since I was very young; I always had headphones on ever since elementary school. I also always loved to journal and write poetry. Once I started writing my own songs and performing them in my late teenage years, it all clicked for me. It was a way to perform, sing, be poetic, and not perform someone else’s material! Once I found it, I never looked back. I do enjoy other art forms like writing poetry and essays and such, but music will always be my true love.
FTR: What can people expect from the Raye Zaragoza live show?
I love performing live! And I am so sad that we’re all unable to tour right now. I like to think that I bring the energy of my theater upbringing & my experience playing at rallies to my live show. I like to think of my live shows as community gatherings rather than a performance. I try to bring the energy of a full band with just me and my guitar!
FTR: What’s next for Raye Zaragoza?
My new album “Woman In Color” that was produced by Tucker Martine comes out on October 23rd! It is surreal that it is finally coming out. It has been over two years in the making. I hope that next year I will be able to tour on the record! Other than that, I am learning to produce my own music! I am hoping maybe someday I can produce my own albums. I am also working on a collaborative record with another artist right now, and just started a podcast on creativity, wellness, and entrepreneurship (co-hosted by Erica Elan) called Create Well!
They Listen To…
Samantha Crain – Ah Echo
Bonny Light Horseman – Deep In Love
TEEKS – Without You
Fleet Foxes – Can I Believe You
Yola – Deep Blue Dream
Woman In Color is out October 23rd via Rebel River Records. Click HERE for more information on Raye Zaragoza.