Rupa & the April Fishes, in concert
Occasionally I enter drawings to win free tickets to stuff over at Nippertown, but I never win. So my expectations were not exactly high when I entered last week’s drawing to win tickets to see the band Rupa & the April Fishes on Saturday at the Sanctuary for Independent Media.
I knew little about the band, other than that they play world music (a label I find so vague and generic as to be almost meaningless), but their instrumentation — trumpet, cello, stand-up bass, guitar and drums — made them sound lively and fun, and I’m always interested in checking out something a little different. But then I went hiking in the rain, and forgot all about Rupa & the April Fishes. When I got home from the hike, my attitude was something along the lines of “I think I will take a hot shower and lie on my couch and watch movies for the rest of my life.” Then I checked my email, saw that I’d won free tickets to the concert, and off I went.
I drank some coffee before the concert, to rouse myself, but once the music started I had no trouble staying awake. The San Francisco-based Rupa & the April Fishes play a blend of reggae, ska, rock, pop, Latin music, zydeco and European folk music. The title of one of their songs, “Electric Gumbo Radio,” provides a pretty apt description of what they’re all about as their music mixes styles and languages — French, Spanish and English. The band is also proudly political, in the tradition of left-wing bands such as Rage Against the Machine, The Clash, Public Enemy and the MC5. But those bands were fueled mainly by anger, while Rupa & the April Fishes draws upon more positive emotions, such as hope and love, and their music is more upbeat as a result. For instance, their Occupy-inspired song “I Don’t Want to Get Arrested” is catchy and raucous, more likely to inspire dancing than clenched-fists of rage. Which isn’t to say that Rupa & the April Fishes makes light of injustice. It’s just that their approach is a more joyous and celebratory one.
The band is fronted by a charismatic woman named Rupa Marya, who works as a doctor when she’s not performing. It seems likely that Marya’s experiences treating people from all walks of life — during the show, she talked about her work with patients with traumatic brain injuries — have helped shaped the band’s compassionate world view, which emphasizes alleviating the pain and suffering of people around the globe. But Rupa & the April Fishes are not preachy. They make message music, but it’s not strident or overly cynical, and their primary goal seems to be lifting people’s spirits while making them think (and perhaps take action).
And on the basis of their show at the Sanctuary for Independent Media, I think it’s safe to say that they succeed.
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