Rupa & the April Fishes’ songs of hope for troubled times
Growing Upward, group’s fifth studio album will be released April 19, with a plastic-free physical version composed of 12 packets of seeds and a download code
April 8, 2019 – Rupa and the April Fishes’ new album, Growing Upward, is music for the movements of our time. Anthems of resilience, spitfire commentary, and collaborations with indigenous artists make up an album that resounds with joy, love, and transformation.
Borderless ensemble Rupa and the April Fishes has always been rooted in activism—in subject matter and practice. Previous albums have taken on love, loss, and xenophobia in the Bush years and the plight of migrants crossing borders.
There’s a new sense of urgency on their sixth album to match the current political and ecological climate. Its 12 songs took shape over a seven-year span as frontwoman Rupa, a doctor and social thinker as well as a musician, underwent experiences that transformed her: providing medical care to hunger strikers protesting police killings in San Francisco; treating Water Protectors confronting state-supported violence at Standing Rock, collaborating with Lakota/Dakota healers and leaders to decolonize medicine by creating a clinic in North Dakota, becoming a mother. “All those intense experiences are reflecting on the same crisis.” Rupa reflects, “Everything we face is interconnected: the international rise of fascism, the festering of American racism, the increase in police violence, the ongoing oppression of indigenous people, the imminent threat of catastrophic climate change.” The result is an album of impassioned songs energized by Rupa and the April Fishes’ global perspective that offers strength and solace to those already in the fight and a call to action for everyone else.
Multicultural fusion? Global indie rock? It’s hard to pin down the sound of Rupa and the April Fishes, and that’s how Rupa likes it. “I call it purposeful boundlessness. I don’t strive for a style.” Their eclectic sound is shaped by a multitalented string section (Misha Khalikulov on cello, Matt Szemela on violin), diverse rhythms (Aaron Kierbel on drums, JHNO on organ, Daniel Fabricant and Todd Sickafoose on bass), and soaring trumpet (Mario Alberto Silva). The common ground in which each song sprouts is Rupa’s distinctive, expressive vocal style, ranging from ethereal heights to low earthy tones.
One label that does sit comfortably with Rupa is “Liberation Music”, a designation bestowed by Gil Scott Heron, the legendary spoken word poet and godfather of rap. When Rupa spent time with him not long before his death, they spoke about post-national identity, and Heron asked her to contribute to America’s dialogue about race. “What I learned from him was not being afraid to expand my sense of genre,” Rupa recalls. “It’s my job to communicate honestly and passionately using whatever palette I have, to create a sound identity that exists beyond borders”.
Responses to Heron’s challenge shape the album’s most powerful songs. “Yelamu (We Are Still Here),” an electronic track produced by Rupa and Damion Gallegos, amplifies the voices of marginalized peoples.
Listening to and singing with indigenous people is a taproot that feeds Growing Upward. The anthem “Frontline” was written at the request of the grandmothers at Standing Rock. Rupa collaborated with a circle of native women in British Columbia to create “Water Song,” that layers their voices— howling, chanting, and serenely singing in languages from along the Pacific Coast.
The album’s title track “Growing Upward” explores what reconnecting to indigenous perspectives sounds like. “This song grew out of talking with indigenous people who haven’t lost the capacity to hear nonhuman voices,” Rupa explains. “I tried to imagine what it feels like to be a dandelion seed germinating under asphalt and breaking through.” Video artist Zen Cohen has directed a powerful music video released on April 1, the perfect date for a band named after a French April Fool’s Day tradition.
What Rupa and the April Fishes offer with Growing Upward—both musically and lyrically—is a hopeful map to a better future. “The central idea for this album is encountering indigenous cultures, collaborating, and learning humility from them,” Rupa elaborates. “Confronting past and present wrongs with humility doesn’t have to be dismal or miserable; it can be full of compassion and joy. When we look back with kindness and open-heartedness, we can go forward in the right way and correct past wrongs.”
Artist Mona Caron, internationally known for multi-story murals celebrating the rebellious resilience of weeds and creating art for the climate justice movement, gives visual form to the album with cover art of twelve sprouting seedlings in a mandala-like circle, each growing through one of the April Fishes or their collaborators against a backdrop of the crises we face: state violence, petrochemical pollution, devastating weather events, media manipulated by nationalist entities. The image is not mere metaphor: the album will be released in a plastic-free form as twelve seed packets so listeners can grow their own medicinal plants, reawakening their own connection with the earth. “We’re in a challenging time,” remarks Rupa, “but when you look at the power of these seeds, you can’t do anything but hope.”
Growing Upward by Rupa And The April Fishes will be released digitally April 19.
The physical release is composed of 12 packets of seeds and a download code.
Communications Coup Sûr
– 30 –