Music

Rupa & the April Fishes: Este Mundo

While much supposedly "boundary-crossing" music can end up bogged down in dubious fusion, the music of Rupa & the April Fishes works because it's rooted in broadly sympathetic musical styles.


Rupa & the April Fishes

Este Mundo

Label: Cumbancha
US Release Date: 2009-10-27
UK Release Date: 2009-11-09
Label Website
Artist Website
Amazon
iTunes

Este Mundo is the second album from San Francisco band Rupa & the April Fishes, following the well-received Extraordinary Rendition in 2008. Like its predecessor, it presents a mixture of global styles, including pop, jazz, Colombian cumbia, Argentinian milonga, French chanson, Indian ragas, and gypsy brass. Only one of the songs is in English, with Rupa Marya singing mostly in French and Spanish. The instrumental line-up includes accordion, upright bass, cello, and prominent trumpet. As a group, Rupa & the April Fishes represent a number of different cultural backgrounds, and it is clear that their musical mission is to create an esoteric mixture of sounds and styles, putting them in similar musical territory as Manu Chao, Gogol Bordello, and Lhasa (the latter is particularly brought to mind in the Franco-Hispanic tunes that make up the new group of songs).

But it is not only musical boundaries that Rupa wishes to challenge and explore on this album. The recurring theme is geographical borders, especially the US-Mexican one. A number of the songs explicitly highlight the plight of migrant workers (to whom the album is also dedicated), and the CD booklet is illustrated with pictures of the border fence. Issues of migration, liminality, love, and loss pervade Este Mundo, to mostly jaunty musical arrangements.

It's not immediately clear how "La Frontera", the opening montage, represents the dedication to lost migrants that is placed in lieu of lyrics in the booklet, but it clearly references the winding-up and/or breaking-down of instruments and other machines, off-kilter accordion suggesting that the fairground atmosphere of the April Fishes' sound may contain ominous as well as celebratory messages. The first song proper is "C'est Moi", sung in French over acoustic guitar, background noises, light percussion, and pump organ. The accordion emerges again from the background noise to lend carnival ambiance, and is soon joined by squeaky, quirky cartoon trumpet while Rupa delivers the line "Je ne sais rien de l'amour" (I don't know anything about love) in a breathy percussive manner that is quite affecting.

"Por la Frontera" ups the pace with quickfire percussion and blasts of trumpet, trombone, and sousaphone. It's a catchy song with a fiesta feel that is undermined by the delivery of the question, "Como una linea vale más que una vida?" (How can a line be worth more than a life?). This is followed by another border-influenced song, "La Linea", driven on a reggae bassline that recalls the work of Manu Chao, especially given its subject matter and Spanish lyrics. Between the verses there are fine trade-offs between trumpet and accordion. Indeed, Marcus Cohen's trumpet and Isabel Douglass's accordion and bandoneón provide many of the finest moments on this album.

"La Rose" is an uptempo chanson about untraveled paths and abandoned wishes, another potentially somber lyric almost lost amidst the whirl and bright colors of its musical accompaniment. For those listeners who speak neither French nor Spanish and who don't have the translations of these songs to hand, it will not be at all clear how serious many of these lyrics are. This may not matter, given the richness of the music and its inherent catchiness, but Rupa Marya is clearly an earnest lyricist who wishes to get a set of messages across. She may wish to consider in future how words might be married to melodies more effectively.

Having established the Franco-Hispanic lyrical and musical world of the album, it comes as a slight surprise when the tremendously catchy Spanish-language "Soledad" (a Colombian cumbia written by Enrique Bonfante Castilla) is interrupted by an English-language rap (courtesy of Boots Riley of California hip-hoppers the Coup). It just about works, though it does seem like overly-conscious mixing-up.

"El Camino del Diablo" (The Devil's Highway), a reference to the dangerous trails that weave through the borderlands between Mexico and the US, is an instrumental piece featuring appropriately funereal trumpet. In a nice bit of sequencing, the trumpet (now mapping a space somewhere between Sketches of Spain-era Miles Davis and the desert soundscapes of Calexico) carries over to the title track, a lovely example of Rupa's songwriting skills. Following this, "Soy Payaso" references Indian raga and utilizes tabla and bansuri flute in its opening textures, before switching to a kind of klezmer-cum-gypsy jazz style that alternates verses in French with a Spanish refrain. It's a confusing mix on paper, but the end result is harmonious enough to make the piece a decent example of the April Fishes' boundary-crossing.

While much supposedly "boundary-crossing" music can end up bogged down in dubious fusion -- as if it were an experiment in what would happen when two radically distinct styles or genres were cross-pollinated -- the music of Rupa & the April Fishes works because, while seeming eclectic, it is actually rooted in broadly sympathetic musical styles. There is a consistency to the soundworld on Este Mundo that leaves a strong impression of certain instrumental flavors (guitar, trumpet, accordion) that complement rather than swamp each other. While the group's eclecticism is often explained in relation to bandleader Rupa's culturally varied background (she grew up on three continents), the group as a whole are a fine example of what good musicians do best, especially in a fertile urban environment such as San Francisco. They converse and filter the results of their conversations through a finely-honed musical artistic sensibility.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image