Catching up with Rupa

I have not seen or heard in a while Rupa & The April Fishes, yet am thinking about her and them, this 29th day of April, 2014.

I rescued if that’s the word, these 900 words that I had posted on some other site:

I have a scant hour today to post my tribute to Palo Altan Rupa Marya, of Rupa and The April Fishes. I trust that the story itself will compensate for my telling of it.

Rupa and her band were driving across Tennessee and looking for a place to eat lunch Tuesday while our futuristic communications devices let us exchange ideas, on behalf of (unnamed other site, we’ll call it PLASTIC ALTO). While awaiting the chance to speak with her, I had fantasized about flying (via my airlines “rewards” program) to catch up with her in Austin, Texas, Thursday — tomorrow — at a quaint club I know well called MoMos.

Previously, I had dreamed of checking out her show at the Millenium Park in Chicago, near the famous public art monument “Clouds” by Anish Kapoor; my initial plan for this post was to use it as in indirect preview of Palo Alto’s World Music Day, back in June; Rupa and her band were actually in Mendocino that weekend, for the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival. 

She confirmed my suspicion that although she has performed in twenty countries or so and thirty of the top festivals in the world, she has not had a proper public show in Palo Alto, her hometown. (Actually, she’s from Los Altos Hills and attended Castilleja, but her brother went to Gunn so we’ll claim her). 

When then-mayor Peter Drekmeir invited me to help plan the first Palo Alto World Music Day in 2009, my very first thought was to get Rupa and The April Fishes as a headliner. Her agent held the date for us, but it was decided to keep our version of Fete De La Musique without a main stage or focal point, to keep the emphasis on amateurs (“for the love of it”) making street music.

Rupa said she is touring behind new material for a planned third album. Her previous two sets, both available on the excellent Cumbancha Records, of Charlotte, Vermont, near Burlington, are called “Extraordinary Rendition” (2008)and “Este Mundo” (2009). 

Rupa is in what could be called Rupa 3.0. Rupa 1.0 was when she was known as the singing-physician who wrote songs in French, Spanish, English and Hindi. Exemplary songs from that era include “Une Americaine a Paris” and “Wishful Thinking”.

In 2.0, Rupa, consistant with her work performing and advocating for border populations, were songs written and sung mostly in Spanish. When I asked her about her shift towards Spanish she informed me that her five most recent new compositions are all in English, including something called “Build” which is about farming and the implications of our post-agricultural world (which reminds me of my one-time client Helena Norberg-Hodge of the International Society of Ecology and Culture). 

Rupa says she is on sabbatical from her second career, as an attending pediatric oncologist at UCSF Hospital. She corrected my phrasing and said he has one career and that her work as a scientist and care-giver is integrated to her work as a band-leader, song-writer performer and activist.

She bemoaned the role of pharmaceutical companies and lauded Healthy San Francisco, which provides all citizens of that “tiny island nation” (her phrasing), where she resides,  a modicum of preventative medicine. 

Disclosure: I was briefly an unpaid member of the artist management team, based in Oakland, that sought to introduce Rupa and The April Fishes to the music business operative and entities. Today I am one of her biggest fans and an unpaid contributor to this website. 

Who else I think of a propos Rupa Marya: Mother Theresa, Vaclav Havel, Michael Franti, Manu Chau, Patti Smith, Jocelyn Elders, Mona Caron, Sunaura Taylor, John McRea (of Cake, she said she met him recently), Ani DiFranco, Tommy Jordan of Palo Alto who also makes world music and speaks some French; Victor Jara, John Lennon.

Margaret Meade said “never underestimate the ability of a small group of people to change the world.” If she had met Rupa Marya she might have said never underestimate what one person can do.

We left our conversation with not so idle talk of bringing The April Fishes to Palo Alto, perhaps to Mitchell Park bowl, maybe Cubberley Theater or (and I’m adding this part ex parte) Lytton Plaza for some impromptu busking.

She is playing quasi-locally August 25 a free show for SFJazz at Union Square and and Saturday, Aug. 27 at The Independent nightclub on Divisidero in San Francisco, with her Cumbancha label-mates Sergent Garcia.

I had fantasized of Rupa, perhaps wearing an Oakland Raiders jersey, performing “Wishful Thinking” at the half-time memorial I had organized for The Danny McCallister Fund at Gunn High. Her song, referencing “an unsavory crew” of pirates but actually about the medical demise of a loved one, is a slow minor-chord waltz, but for me presages Johnny Depp’s pirates franchise (and I’m stealing this bit from Rebecca Solnit’s “Infinite City”) and is descendent from Robert Louis Stevenson’s stepson’s drawing of a mythical “treasure island.” Rupa Marya is the 50th treasure of San Francisco and we should nurture her roots in our little town.

I’m also just now realizing, about a year late, that Rupa collaborated with Todd Sickafoose on a studio project called “Build” and also with Mark Orton on some other project. Will update as I can.

Rupa is super-overdue for a proper Palo Alto play.

Edit to add: and this probably doesn’t belong here, but I am the only person in the world who noticed that when members of Pussy Riot were interviewed on Charlie Rose, the sponsor of the show was a website owned by a large packaged goods company COMING TO GET HER DOT COM. Really. Follow this link.

edit to adder: Andrew Gilbert, apropos of the recent Todd Sickafoose band show at Yoshi’s earlier this very April, has a run-down about the Rupa-Sickafoose, nexus and that Todd also produced a session for Rob Reich (the accordion-player, not the Inequality-Guru):

Reich recalls hearing about the bassist a few years ago after Sickafoose produced Rupa and the April Fishes’ latest album Build “and Rupa was raving about him,” says Reich, who also performs in the Gypsy jazz combo Gaucho, which celebrates the release of the new album Thinking of You at Yoshi’s on April 17. “The first time I played with him was with Rupa in a trio at the Red Poppy Art House doing her music, and was blown away by how good and strong his grooves were. It’s rare to find such a strong, rhythmic player who’s also a super sweet and mellow guy.”

And not to further take credit for the rain when I’m only a Weather Man (or the guy who runs the blue screen), but I had to dredge up from my email something about comparing Rupa and Ani in an internal memo, in 2007 (when Chris Cuevas was her manager and I was somewhere between co-manager and intern):

In previous message I said I talked with Ani DiFranco’s radio guy — I hope
that’s okay, I’m a little off strategy…I somehow can picture Rupa on
Righteous Babe, she’s more righteous and babe-ish than Ani DiFranco!!!

Todd and Rupa played a duo show at Yoshi’s not long ago, around that time. And Mark Orton’s music was featured prominently in the film “Nebraska”.

And I’m outro-ing with something that hardly belongs here, Suprina Kenney’s sculpture that some may mis-label as “The Catch” but is actually called “Willie” that depicts Willie Mays in 1954 running down that blast by Vic Wertz, depicted as kinda cubist and abstracted, that was originally a commission for MLB Fancave but ended up either procured or on loan to Giants, and John King of the Chron says it is the only art in the stadium or park that alludes, by color, to the Golden Gate Bridge:

catch suprina or rupa or vic wirtz, depending on your build

catch suprina or rupa or vic wirtz, depending on your build


rescued 900 words than added another 400 for better or worse, a little like retrieving a foul ball versus catching a home run blast, but something.

Namaste, Rupa Marya

Namaste, Todd Sickafoose

Namaste, Mark Orton

Namaste, Andrew Gilbert

Namaste, Suprina Kenney

Namaste, Willie Mays

“Namaste” in this case means the little Juan Marichal inside me waves above his head in enthusiastic and artistic manner the wand of God’s best tooled-Adirondack ash but does not harm or even scare the little John Roseboro in the others. It’s just a dance, people, peepli.

About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player, and blogger; he also sang in local choir, fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32 Reads 'Howl' and owns a couple musical instruments he cannot play
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