Band of the Day

2011.12.12

Rupa and the April Fishes

An eclectic fusion of worldly music that pulsates with a socially-conscious soul
I am waiting for the rain to quench my thirst, I find water in my tears.
lyrics from Espero La Luna (English translation)

Rupa and the April Fishes is a multi-cultural world music group that came together in 2006 in the Mission district of San Francisco, California. The band met through the local art community, and played their first show at the Red Poppy Art House. Fronted by singer/guitarist Rupa Marya, who is also a doctor of internal medicine at UCSF, their music style fuses everything from Latin cumbias, to Indian ragas, to French chanson. Likewise, Marya sings in English, Spanish, French, and Hindi. Although Marya was born in San Francisco, and currently resides there, she was also raised in Northern India and France by her Indian-born parents. Alongside the eclectic mix of music styles, Rupa and the April Fishes are known for their politically-charged lyrics, which touch upon issues like immigration and race. Their debut LP, Extraordinary Rendition, was released on Cumbancha Records in 2006. Three years later, they released their second LP, Este Mundo. Rupa and the April Fishes are currently touring around the world.

To say that San Francisco, California is an eclectic city is a bit of an understatement. There are food trucks with things like sushirritos (a sushi-burrito hybrid) on the menu. One block away from some of the most upscale shops are people selling drugs, and their bodies. Hipster dive bars, with a bevvy of expensive bicycles locked out front, sit happily in the middle of neighborhoods where Spanish is the dominant language. So for anyone who lives in, or has visited, San Francisco, it makes perfect sense that this is where a band like Rupa and the April Fishes was formed. Like the melting pot that is their hometown, Rupa and the April Fish's music is a fusion of everything from Latin American cumbias, to Indian ragas, to French chanson. Leading this pack of multi-cultural musicians is Rupa Marya, whose background is equally as eclectic as the city she was born in. Alongside being born in San Francisco and raised by Indian parents, she also spent part of her childhood in Northern India and France. Oh, and she just happens to be a doctor of internal medicine when she's not fronting her band. While their debut album, 2006's Extraordinary Rendition, is primarily built on classic French music traditions, their latest album Este Mundo takes more of a Latin American spin. Besides the fact that the majority of the songs on Este Mundo (which translates as “this world”) are sung in Spanish, the lyrics are deeply political. The liner notes even mention that the band has dedicated the album to the people who lost their lives trying to cross the border between the US and Mexico. “Por La Frontera” (translation: along the border) is the song where their message is most explicit. With its highly upbeat rhythm and theatrical combination of accordion and horns, the song is deceptively jolly. But in the lyrics (sung in Spanish) lies sentiments like, “Along the highway, I raise my voice, I raise hell” and “How can a line be worth more than a life?” "Trouble" draws from jazzier influences, with upright bass and trumpet solos, and a smokey nightclub feel. It's the only song sung in English on the entire album, and Rupa delivers lines like, “Trouble, beautiful trouble, why don't you stay?” in a purring, bedroom whisper. “C'est Moi” has Rupa sounding just as effortless singing in French as she does in English and Spanish. It starts out as more of a hushed number, with little theatrical flairs peeking through in the form of a lilting accordion line here, or a slide whistle there. What really stands out most with Rupa and the April Fishes—no matter what language they're singing in, or which genre any given song is influenced by—is their ability to transmit hard-hitting social messages through the sheer brilliance of their music alone.