By: Eileen Chen
Photo credits of: Keiko Honda, Taranveer Hayer
Under the hazy spotlights of the legendary Railway Club (now Railway Stage & Beer Café), singer-songwriter Raye Zaragoza held her first solo show in Vancouver. Her performance consisted of a series of emotive and politically charged original pieces as well as covers of well-known songs, each perfectly delivered through rich, effortlessly jazzy vocals and skilled guitar-playing. In between each song, Raye wove in intimate explanations, interpretations of other artists’ pieces, as well as her own background story and her experiences with the city of Vancouver. Without a doubt, Raye won over her first audience in Vancouver with her wondrous music and sincere personality.
Just from attending the concert, one would hardly have guessed that Raye was still recovering from vertigo a day prior to it, when she sat down for her interview for The Colloquium. Despite the exhausting plane and road trip from L.A. (where Raye is based) to Vancouver, Raye did not let her fatigue win over, and insisted that tours are her “favourite part of the job,” due to the opportunity she has to engage with and hear from fans.
Earlier this year, Raye was described as “one of the most politically relevant artists in her genre” by Paste Magazine. Indeed, each song from her debut album Fight for You is charged with political meaning and calls for unity and change. The opening track, “American Dream,” questions the current political climate in America, “In the River” is a protest song that voices environmental concerns, and “Driving to Standing Rock” directly refers to and condemns the Dakota Access Pipeline. The title track, also my personal favourite, “Fight for You,” features Raye’s gorgeous gliding vocals and urges people to “stand up” together to fight for their collective rights.
In addition, Raye’s unique cultural background informs the songs that she composes. Being of mixed Mexican, Native American (O’odham), Taiwanese, and Japanese descent, Raye has been motivated by the search for a sense of belonging since she was a young girl. Her exposure to music at an early age gave her means to explore her passions and identity. With a father who has generations of history in Arizona and a mother who is a first-generation immigrant, Raye was confused as a child as to why both her parents were “treated as outsiders in America.” As a singer-songwriter, Raye is able to apply her unique perspective on racial problems to her music. One way in which she encourages bonding and mutual understanding between people in her lyrics is by incorporating the motif of family. Her song “American Dream,” for example, names a “daddy” and a “mother,” and ties the statement “one day, I want to be a mother and a wife” with anxieties regarding the future of the country. Other of her songs often refer to people as “brothers” and “sisters.” The use of these familial addresses brings both intimacy and urgency to her call-of-action songs.
Even when her songs aren’t explicitly political, Raye enjoys singing about relationships of different sorts, both familial and romantic. “Chase the Child” is a beautiful song about letting one’s child pursue their passions, and “Sleeplovers” is an open-ended song about unfulfilled romantic yearning. Raye even invited her audience to decide whether it was a love song or a break-up song during her show. Although she intended for the piece to be a break-up song upon writing it, the surprising range of responses to the song encouraged Raye to make a guessing game out of it. Through simple lyrics, Raye succeeds in telling delicate, evocative stories.
According to Raye, her song ideas originate from improvisation, and even the process of putting these ideas together is highly intuitive. Sometimes the lyrics occur first, and other times it’s the melody. At present, Raye even has the entire melodic structure of a song laid out in her head already, without knowing what it will be about due to the lack of lyrics! Raye’s laid-back approach to composing involves letting her creativity flow free and never writing her music down on paper. Everything, including the process of recording, is done “until it feels right.” Instead of striving for perfection, Raye refuses to limit herself with rules. Pointing out that “a lot of songs are not grammatically correct,” Raye says: “if you edit and edit and edit, it’s going to edit the soul out of your song.”
As a result, both Raye’s lyrics and vocals have an effortless flow. Her music strikes a natural balance between being soothing enough to heal souls and dynamic enough to inspire change. Although her next visit to Vancouver has yet to be determined, Raye will be visiting Eastern Canada this winter, and has more tours in L.A., New York, and several other cities in the United States. For more of her inspiring music, visit Raye’s website at www.rayezaragoza.com!