Rupa & the April Fishes, Este Mundo (Cumbancha, 2009)

If you follow this site, you know my taste in music is pretty eclectic. I've reviewed albums in all sorts of different styles, but I have a soft spot for works that can combine styles from many different places and come out sounding perfectly natural. Such is the case with Este Mundo, the second album from San Francisco's Rupa & the April Fishes. Fronted by singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer, physician, and one-woman world music festival Rupa Marya, the group delves into cabaret, polka, reggae, salsa, samba, klezmer, hip-hop, raga, tango, and gypsy music. And I'm sure I'm leaving a few things out.

Rupa primarily alternates between singing in French and Spanish on Este Mundo, although there is one jazzy standard sung in English called "Trouble." I suppose you could argue, though, that Rupa sings most of her songs in the universal language of romance. She does get serious at points, though, drawing attention to the surprisingly large number of Mexican migrant workers who expire in the desert heat while trying to cross the border. The songs "Por la Frontera" and "Espero la Luna" address this issue, as two the titles of the albums two instrumentals, "La Frontera" and "El Camino del Diablo." Rupa also delves a little into her own philosophy of life. On "The Rose," she talks about not standing around when the road opens up in front of her like a flower. And on "L'Elephant," she compares herself to the hulking creature of the jungle, trampling over what's in front of her just to make her path.

In addition to Rupa on vocals and guitar, the band consists of Aaron Kierbel (drums and percussion), Isabel Douglass (accordion), Safa Shokrai (bass), Ed Baskerville (cello), and Marcus Cohen (trumpet). Given the diversity of styles and the often off-kilter arrangements, the musicians deserve much credit for holding things together. The album starts a bit slowly, with a curious intro followed by the sad French ballad "C'est Moi." But then things pick up in a really big way. "Por la Frontera" is an angry but effective polka, "La Linea" is infectious reggae, and "La Rose" combines the gypsy cabaret style of Paris Combo with a klezmer twist. The best song on the disc is "Soy Payaso," which begins with an ominous bansuri flute playing above a tabla, before surging into a frenetic mystical tale sung French but played in a very Balkan arrangement.

Este Mundo is a musical carnival, with a least one or two songs to suit just about everybody's tastes. It's mostly fun and upbeat, but Rupa & the April Fishes have a strong sense of purpose, and the musical skill to back it up.

Overall grade: A

reviewed by Scott

"Por la Frontera" and "Espero la Luna"

No comments: