With Growing Upward Rupa and the April Fishes have released what is probably their most radical recording yet. From the packaging, only available digitally but those who purchase will be sent packs of seeds to plant, to its contents, this recording promises to upset those who now find themselves on the wrong side of history.
Oops, so at the risk of betraying bias, by wrong side of history I mean the climate change deniers, the racists and the white power jerks who are looking to cling onto their remnants of power. There’s something on this disc for all of them. It won’t change any of their minds, but it’s nice to hear opposition to their stupidity voiced in such an articulate, hopeful, and musical fashion.
Sure there’s been lots of political music over the years, but, unfortunately most people still think earnest folk singer when they think political music. (Did they miss The Clash and Gil-Scott Heron and tons of others?) Rupa and the April Fishes (if you’re wondering about the April Fishes part of the name look up April 1 in France) lean more towards the reggae/hip-hop/jazz side of the musical spectrum but their content would make Joe Strummer proud.
What’s wonderful about Rupa and the April Fishes is there songs are as much about the music as content. This band is hot, no matter how you look at it. They can tear through the amazing funk/avant-garde jazz piece “Where You From” (which also contains one of my favourite lyrics on the album “Where you really from?/You mean what kind of brown am I?”) with style and flair and also create the atmosphere required to express the heartfelt beauty of “Stolen Land”.
While Rupa fronts the band on vocals and guitar this type of music wouldn’t be possible without a tight band. With Misha Khalikulov cello, Matt Szemala violin, Aaron Kierbel drums, JHNO organ, Daniel Fabricant and Todd Sickafoose bass and trumpeter Mario Alberto Silva the Fishes create a remarkable sound.
From their cover of the Bollywood classic “Eena Mean Deeka”, the reggae infused “Lay My Head Down” to the aggressive R&B/Funk of “Frontline” they handle any and all musical styles thrown their way. However, Growing Upward also feature guests, guests who aren’t typically found on a pop music release.
“Water Song” was recorded with a circle of First Nations women from British Columbia. In it you’ll hear their layered voices singing in the different languages spoken by the people of that region. The final song of the album features not only the voices of activists from all over the world, it features spoken word artist Guillermo Gomez-Pena reciting a piece he co-wrote with Rupa, “Declaration of Human Rights From the Other San Francisco”.
So yes, Growing Upward is not your typical pop album, but these aren’t typical times and this isn’t a typical band. Rupa is a doctor and she’s spent the past decade or so administering medicine in some of North America’s worst trouble spots. She was treating protestors at Standing Rock who were assaulted by police, she treats people on hunger strikes against police violence, and she helped set up a medical clinic in collaboration with Lakota/Dakota people in North Dakota.
Musically the album might be international, but Growing Upward deals specifically with issues far closer to home. The dangers our planet faces from our own greed and stupidity being its primary concern. However the band also recognizes how everything is interconnected; from racism to how we treat the environment, and the song’s lyrical contents do their best to understand this intertwining.
It’s been some time since I first heard Rupa and the April Fishes but the one thing that’s always impressed me about them is their ability to marry music and content in song. With Growing Upward they continue to prove they are past masters of this art. This is an album of great music and powerful words – not something we’re used to anymore, but something we need.
(Article first posted at Blogcritics.org as Music Review: Rupa and the April Fishes : Growing Upward)
Richard Marcus is the author of two commissioned works published by Ulysses Press, editor in the books section of Blogcritics.org and contributor at Qantara.de. He has been writing since 2005 and his work has appeared in publications all over the world including the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine.