Rupa and the April Fishes
We recently had the pleasure of speaking to Rupa about her debut album, its influences and the meaning of "world music" in our modern age.
Hi Rupa, Do you think your sound reflects the City you live in?
Hi! Absolutely. San Francisco is a place of political engagement, broad cultural and ethnic diversity, geographic beauty and celebration of difference. I love the characters who are drawn here, the way we all live together and learn from each other. It has been very important for me to live and work in an environment where voicing one's political beliefs is accepted and welcomed. There is not as much of a social stigma that is as deeply entrenched when crossing social or economic lines.
The Mission District, where I spend most of my time, has a vibrant collection of people from all over the world, the Philippines and Latin America in particular, and many artists as well. This place of gathering of all types of people all living in the same place has affected me deeply. I am inspired by people I meet walking on the street. I'm inspired by the sounds of the street. I'm inspired by the physical beauty of the city, the light, the fog, the proximity to the ocean. San Francisco is the big casserole dish in which everything is put in my life to create the stuff that is coming out.
I suppose your life and the places you've lived have influenced your music - what experiences do you draw on when writing?
My music comes from what happens when you are raised by a father who loved Johnny Cash, Roger Miller and old Indian Ghazals and a mother who was obsessed with Chopin and the Beatles and was on her way to becoming a classical pianist before she was distracted from her studies by her arranged marriage to my father. These different experiences have found their way into my identity, allowing me to feel at home nowhere in particular and everywhere. That combined with living in the US on a steady diet of Bob Dylan, Bob Marley and the Police and then dragged to France where I feasted my ears on Serge Gainsbourg and Georges Brassens brings about what you hear today.
Your band (The Fishes) has evolved around you - Ed has been with you the longest but what do the Fishes (as a collective) bring to your music and how does having the band affect your writing?
The band is crucial to developing the full sound and realization of these particular songs and as the members are juggled for various reasons (one accordionist cannot travel because of an ill parent, another cellist wants to get a PhD in computational ecological modelling), the music changes as each different musician brings their own voice, personality and presence. My job as the composer is affected by who I know I am playing with, the expression I have come to learn about from each of these amazing musicians. My role is as an architect of the songs, creating enough structure to give it the force and shape I am trying to create and enough space to allow the voices of the players in to make their own mark. It's a combination of the structure of folk-pop and the fluidity of jazz. I often see my role as a theater director, once the lyrics, chords, main melodies and shape are put into place, I bring the song to the band and we literally play it. Time and again. And it's different every time. This live element makes this project incredibly exciting for me and for the musicians I play with, and the audience who never hears the same show twice. We are not trying to replicate what we have recorded. We are trying to communicate in real time.
I think your sound fits in with a global outlook, helped by the internet, where borders are only virtual. Are you excited at the prospect of releasing your music around the world and how do you think the world will take to your music?
I think what you say is interesting--the role of the internet on creating a seemingly border-less world. I am incredibly excited to see the world through music, to meet more people, to learn. It has been a few years since I have travelled like this because I had to hunker down with my medical studies. This is an incredible gift, to be able to travel and bring one's music to different people, to meet different folks from all walks of life, to share in a cultural exchange with other artists, to open one's eyes to the realities that are affecting us all across divides in the current geopolitical situation we find ourselves. I am honored and thrilled. The band is like a family--we get along really well. We are all lowkey, very open-minded and adventurous. It makes touring feel like a family vacation without the frustrated teenager angst. I know we will all be greatly affected by who we meet and what we do. I am excited to see how that shapes the music. I hope people who hear the music will feel the common deepest humanistic threads. I hope they will celebrate with us and teach us what we need to know.
You are in the process of taking your show around America and Europe - how have the shows been going and do you like playing in different countries to different cultures?
The audiences bring their own culture to each show. I remember the first time we played in Switzerland, we were surprised by how different the audience was from our typical wild audience in San Francisco. We adjust our expectations--we have learned it is best to really have no expectation, to discover each audience along the way and find where we can take them. It's a total adventure.
What's next for Rupa?
Packing my bags, getting my guitars tuned up and ready, finishing a few dictations at the hospital,making sure my rent is paid, kissing my partner, my family and friends and hitting the road...
Rupa & The April Fishes eXtraOrdinary rendition out 9th June on Cumbancha, www.cumbancha.com
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