Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Rupa & the April Fishes create music that defies easy categorization. Their debut album, eXtraOrdinary rendition, echoes with influences of classic French chanson, Argentinean tango, Gypsy swing, American folk, Latin cumbias, and even hints of Indian ragas. Jacob Edgar from Cumbancha enthuses, 'When I first heard Rupa's music, I knew instantly she was a perfect Cumbancha artist. Her appeal stretches far beyond the traditional world music audience'.
The band's raucous and inviting performances have earned them an enthusiastic following in San Francisco and following their recent signing to Cumbancha, Rupa & the April Fishes are poised for international recognition with the worldwide release of this intriguing new album. With their evocative variation of sounds combined with Rupa's sensual vocals, eXtraOrdinary rendition showcases Rupa's songwriting scope and ability to write in a multitude of languages, including French, Spanish, Hindi and English. With themes ranging from love and death to politics and philosophy, the songs offer a magic carpet ride through time and place and embody Rupa's goal of breaking down borders both real and imagined.
Rupa is of Indian heritage, her mother and father hailing originally from the Punjab region of northern India. They moved to the United States in the early 1970s, settling in the Bay Area, where Rupa was born. Some years later, Rupa's parents fell in love with southern France and moved to Aix-En-Provence when Rupa was ten. One of the few people of Indian descent in an area with a large Arab immigrant population, Rupa was immediately aware that the color of her skin lead people to make judgments about her before she even opened her mouth.
"I remember being going into town with one of the ladies from my school" recalls Rupa, "and she said, 'don't worry, I'm going to introduce you as Indian … otherwise they're going to think you're an Arab,' as if that was a horrible thing. I remember being ten years old and always very aware of race and how people perceived me, and how I perceived myself. Living in the south of France, people always assumed that I was either Roma (Gypsy), or Arab. And so I was always very aware of how people treated my shade of brown, and how I was developing my own concept of identity."
While she first started by playing straightforward singer-songwriter material in English, Rupa was beginning to forge a new sound that was more representative of her complex identity, which she describes as a "mosaic." Rupa began writing in French, which she saw as "a way to separate myself melodically and rhythmically from the literal meaning of language. I wanted to learn to use language as paint strokes, instead of actual literal words all the time. It was music that was trying to explore what it meant to me to be who I was growing up in all these different places with all these amazing stories and this family who dragged me all over the world. It's trying to give voice to those beautiful things that came through my heritage."
The name April Fishes was inspired by the French term les poissons d'avril, a similar concept to April Fools day. In France on the first of April, people stick little paper fishes on unsuspecting people's backs. "The origin of that is disputed," Rupa explains, "but one of the stories is that when a French king changed to the Roman calendar from the pagan calendar that was in wide use at the time some people who still wanted to celebrate New Year in April. So these are the people who would give the fishes, the April fish, to celebrate the beginning of the year. We were feeling like April fishes represents people who don't believe the reality that's handed to them by some higher order. They continue to insist on their own reality. It's a political and social commentary."
Besides being a songwriter and bandleader, Rupa also happens to be a doctor, splitting her time between her music career and caring for patients in San Francisco. She often finds inspiration from her patients. "A lot of my music feels like it derives its heart from these vulnerable encounters with people," says Rupa. "Taking care of people is such a deep inspiration for so many things, but especially music."
The band's sold-out shows at large venues in San Francisco are renowned for their circus-like atmosphere evoking a modern-day carnival. The band's informal, acoustic lineup includes Rupa on guitar and vocals backed by upright bass, cello, accordion or bandoneon, percussion and trumpet. Click here for updates on upcoming shows.