Make Noise, Speak Your Mind, and Be Yourself: Raye Zaragoza Writes Protest Songs for Civic Engagemen

>> Folk singer Raye Zaragoza has received notable critical acclaim for her politically-charged tracks which take on topics such as the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and her experience growing up as a multi-cultural woman in the United States. In her interview, Zaragoza shares her hopes of giving a voice to issues that are often ignored in mainstream media.

Many of your tracks have been described as ‘protest songs’ by prominent publications-- could you explain what drew you to writing music with politically charged lyrics?

There wasn't really a defining moment or a decision. It was really a natural course as I became an adult, got to know myself better, and really examined my identity as a woman of color living in the United States. Once I wrote my first social justice song about Standing Rock, I realized how much of an impact music has and from there I knew that this meant far more to me that writing songs about the guy I was dating!

How does it feel to be writing and playing music during such a politically divisive era?

I definitely feel a sense of duty right now as an artist in the public eye. I feel like many are lost and afraid in this current political climate, and it's our job as artists to comment, comfort, and inspire. I hope my songs can expand minds, and give a voice to issues that aren't always heard in mainstream American media.

Folk artists have been known throughout history to deal head-on with social issues and moments of civil injustice--are there any prominent folk artists that you look up to for lyrical or artistic inspiration?

This is exactly what has always drawn me to the folk music genre! There is definitely a strong tradition of commenting on social justice issues within folk songs that I've always greatly admired. I love Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Buffy St. Marie, and Rodriguez, just to name a few!

Could you describe the backstory behind your highly anticipated single “Warrior”?

I wrote "Warrior" both before and after my tour opening for Dispatch. I was incredibly nervous to be playing in front of thousands of people — SOLO! People thought I was out of my mind for wanting to do the tour by myself, but I knew that solo was the way I wanted to perform and I was really excited to show people that one woman on stage in front of thousands of people was enough. But it definitely was terrifying! The verses are about facing that fear, and the choruses are about facing the extremities & embracing challenges — finding the warrior within us.

During the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, you released the song “In the River,” which has garnered nearly a million views online. Could you elaborate on the message behind the successful single and explain your views on the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline?

The song is a cry for hope to stop the exploitation of our waters and land. It is a plea to leave Mother Earth in a better way for the generations to come. The Dakota Access Pipeline is contributing to the contamination of our waters and it desecrated sacred sites, and top of that, people who traveled there to protect the water had water cannons and dogs sent on them. The song was an “enough is enough” for me.

What social justice issues do you feel most strongly connected to-- and how do you participate in advocacy work in your personal life?

I am strongly connected to issues affecting immigrants and indigenous peoples in the US. I do my best to lend my voice to these causes at rallies, events, and meet ups in Los Angeles where I live and around the country. Right now, a major issue is Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. So many native women and girls are going missing, and the families are not getting the help they need. Native women have the highest rate of sexual assault in North America. Over my fall tour with DISPATCH, we had booths where people could learn more about the issue and sign a petition to reinstate the Violence Against Women Act that would help native women as well.

Coming from a multicultural background, how does your experience of growing up as a Native American woman with Mexican, Taiwanese, and Japanese roots in the United States influence the lyrics and sound of your music?

My background has completely shaped the way I look at the world, which naturally has translated into my music. Growing up with multicultural parents has shown me some really vibrant parts of living in America but also some very dark realities for minorities. It’s my greatest mission to give more of a voice to minorities in America like me in mainstream music.

What do you think needs to be done to empower young women in the United States?

I think we need to start very young with girls to teach them that there is no limit to what they can do because they are female. Growing up, a lot of American girls are taught to be quiet and polite. I encourage young girls to make some noise, speak their minds, and never apologize for who they are.

What should fans expect to hear on your next studio release?

I am so excited about the next album! I'm digging even deeper with these next songs, telling more of my family's story, and commenting on current social justice issues.

Listen to Raye Zaragoza HERE!

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