Hurray for the Riff Raff has dropped an official music video for “Pa’lante,” a standout track off the excellent 2017 album The Navigator and a poetic indictment of the injustices and hardship that have befallen Puerto Ricans throughout history. The song references colonialism, the mass sterilization of Puerto Rican women in the 20th century, and the Nuyorican movement, with a crescendo by singer-songwriter Alynda Segarra passionately chanting “pa’lante,” a Boricua mantra of perseverance and resistance.
“Pa’lante is such a strong saying in Puerto Rican culture about moving forward,” says video director Kristian Mercado Figueroa about working on the project. [It’s] a philosophical idea that if something bad happens, you still need to move forward. That runs across Latin America but I feel like Puerto Ricans have always carried that in their vernacular. If someone tells you pa’lante, you instantly know what they mean.”
In “Pa’lante,” Mercado Figueroa paints a particularly vivid portrait of working-class struggle. The clip follows two characters, Manuel and Milagros – played by Kareem Savingon and The Florida Project breakout Mela Murder – hustling to survive and raise a family in post-María Puerto Rico. The video begins before the devastation, showing New York-based Manuel working multiple jobs to send money home to Milagros who also works and cares for their two children, played by Mela’s real-life daughter and niece. It’s a layered picture of island and diasporic identity filled with shots of debris-covered beaches, domino games, traditional bomba dancing, and themes of single motherhood, resilience, and uncertainty.
“I think a lot of it comes from knowing working-class Latinos throughout my life,” says Mercado Figueroa. “The characters – I based them on two names I heard in the song, Manuel and Milagros – and it felt like I’ve known lots of Manuels and Milagros, in my family and outside.” He also highlights Segarra’s use of Pedro Petri’s poem “Puerto Rican Obituary,” a personal favorite, as one of the song’s defining emotional high-points.
“Pa’lante” was shot in New York and Puerto Rico over nine consecutive days. Mercado Figueroa’s aunt, who was displaced by the hurricane, was an essential part of the production, infusing the project with a heavy personal touch for all involved.
“There were lots of emotions and tears throughout the production,” he says. “My aunt and I organized everything using our mutual understanding of Puerto Rico. We know the landscape and we have friends and family [there], so a lot of it was connecting with people and our roots. Puerto Ricans are very hospitable and we were very lucky to have people open their doors and let us film in family homes.”
The video aims to spread awareness about Puerto Ricans’ continuing struggles and raise funds for PRIMA, the initiative launched by Buscabulla and Ani Cordero dedicated to sustaining Puerto Rico’s independent music scene following the storm.
To donate to the PRIMA Fund and help the island’s indie musicians survive, head over to the PRIMA Fund website.