“They say that folk music’s for the elite, the wise and the old with the college degree, a $40 ticket and a $15 drink,” sings Raye Zaragoza in the opening bars to her Harvest-channeling new single “They Say,” premiering today on the site.
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The song, featuring Colin Meloy on harmonica and Laura Viers on banjo, is Zaragoza’s third single from this quarantine year ahead of her eagerly anticipated new studio album Woman in Color, which arrives in stores on October 23 . The forthcoming LP was produced by the renowned Tucker Martine (Roseanne Cash, R.E.M., Sufjan Stevens). A born-and-raised New Yorker who is Native American on her father’s side and first-generation Japanese-American on her mother’s side, Zaragoza–like Buffy Saint Marie, Joan Armatrading and Tracy Chapman before her–utilizes her position as a woman of color in a largely white folk music scene to speak truth to power.
“As a woman of color in America, social issues are things you deal with and see every day of your life…” she says. “The most rewarding thing that happens to me is when young girls come up to me and hug me and say, ‘Thank you’ and that the songs inspire them and put words to how they’re feeling.”
Raye is no stranger by any means to political activism, most notably in her frank, poetic lyrics aimed at such recent atrocities as the Standing Rock pipeline (What do we do when the earth is under attack? / Stand up, fight back), the 2016 presidential election (Hate can’t be / the face of the American dream), and feminism (Take me to the war / To fight like a girl).
On “They Say,” the pull quote is, “If they say that folk music’s for the elite / Well then who’s gonna sing for me?” As Martine, Meloy and Viers roll down a lazy river of Stray Gators warmth, Zaragoza once again strikes directly to the heart of the matter in her bewilderment with the wealth imbalance she sees in her scene.
“This song is about the dysfunction of American power structures,” Zaragoza explains to American Songwriter. “It’s about how the systems built to support the people don’t support all people. Especially during a pandemic, it’s been exposed how those lower on the socio-economic ladder are left without the basic resources everyone deserves.”
Stream “They Say” below.