At 17, the Puerto Rican singer and songwriter ran away from her home in the Bronx, NY in order to find herself. She eventually did find her true home in musically-soulful New Orleans, where she’s been living for the past five years –when she’s not touring. It’s also where she formed her band, which made an appearance on the third season of HBO’s “Treme.” On Saturday, Segarra will be returning to New York City to sing at Lincoln Center Out of Doors 30th Annual Roots of American Music concert.
“It’s really crazy and wild — I feel truly amazing,” says Segarra about returning to the city she was born in but could never fully call home. “This whole summer a lot of dreams are coming true for me — mostly my family not having to worry about me and being proud of me — that’s what I’ve always wanted.”
Segarra first fell in love with music in New York City. She says she used to sing in different venues with her dad, José Enrique Segarra, a Latin jazz musician and Vietnam veteran. She used his image in her 2012 album “Look Out Mama,” which she released on her own label, Born to Win Records.
“We did a performance together when I was in elementary school — I remember that was the moment when I thought ‘I could do this,’” says Segarra. “Then there was the moment when I thought I couldn’t do this, which lasted until I was in my 20s.”
During this time, she was very confused and started having trouble in school.
“I grew up with my aunt, and she was trying so hard, but I knew that New York City wasn’t the place where I was going to stay, and it felt crazy because I didn’t know if I could do something else,” says Segarra. “I dropped out of high school — my family is still not happy about it, but I’m trying to make it right.”
She says her education couldn’t be found in the system.
“I wasn’t lazy — I just needed to take a chance and learn things on my own — luckily, it worked out,” says Segarra.
In New Orleans, she says she discovered that it’s still respected to play music on the street. So she started playing in street bands and quickly realized she could make a living through music.
“It was definitely New Orleans which made me want to try,” says Segarra about where she found herself. “I realized I have to do this or I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
While she often felt like an outsider during her teenage years, it was doo-wop and motown music from the ’60s that she connected with. And through traveling the U.S., she says she fell in love with her country.
“There’s so much about America I didn’t know about,” says Segarra about the people and the landscape. “There’s a kind of a push now to make everything the same, but I love to hear the different ways people talk — it made me love the people.”
The Puerto Rican singer, who spends her free time listening to fellow folk bands Alabama Shakes and Clear Plastic Masks, has even become more proud of her Puerto Rican culture and says she was especially touched when a woman approached her after a concert and said, “I’m Puerto Rican, and I play the banjo.”
“It’s gotten a little more popular these days which is awesome,” says the all-American boricua about folk music among Latinos. “It’s important to me to bridge cultures. We are a part of this country and a part of its future.”