Rupa & the April Fishes
First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2008, Volume 15, #4
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Tue April 15, 2008, 06:30 AM CDT
It would be a challenge to be any more bohemian than Rupa & the April Fishes is on its debut Extraordinary Rendition. When the album first arrived, I placed it into my player without looking at the cover. The sounds that first greeted my ears were a little perplexing and confusing. The music seemed to be situated somewhere between Edith Piaf’s brand of cabaret chansons and Tom Waits’ junkyard aesthetics. It was even more baffling that the singer sang in nearly perfect colloquial French with an American accent. Who was this band?
The cover of Extraordinary Rendition boasts a circus-style painting of an Indian woman bearing lilies in one hand and a tattered flag depicting a map of the world in the other. Inside the front cover of the album booklet is a highly stylized, fin-de-siècle-type portrait of the same woman carrying the same lilies in a re-creation of a Paul Gauguin painting. The photograph of the musicians, which lies on the opposing page, hints at the kind of Moulin Rouge, absinthe-imbibing despair that Rupa & the April Fishes’ music evokes. The accompanying artwork and lyrics are printed in a way that reinforces the aura of Café de Paris chic with which Rupa & the April Fishes so clearly is enamored. After listening to Extraordinary Rendition a second time, I still was left with two nagging questions: Who is this band, and what are they trying to do?
Things became all the more curious when I discovered that Rupa & the April Fishes wasn’t from France or Quebec or New Orleans. The group hails from San Francisco, and even with knowledge of the multi-cultural nature of the city, I was still intrigued by how the group’s sound came together. It’s certainly not every day that one hears an Indian woman singing ’40s-style chansons in French. The melange was initially off-putting; front gal Rupa’s whole presentation seemed to be more about being hip and stylish than creating music. Then, I read that she had spent some of her adolescence in southern France and had discovered cabaret there. She returned to America to get her medical degree and started Rupa & the April Fishes as a side project to her medical practice.
The more that I listened to Extraordinary Rendition, the more I liked it. I started to realize that my confusion and initial dismissal of the record had as much to do with my preconceptions as it did with the music itself. Undeniably, Rupa & the April Fishes has a long way to go in developing its musical chops. This outfit lacks a violinist like Stephane Grappelli or a guitarist like Django Reinhardt to carry off and illuminate its compositions. There are a lot of ideas that lurk within the grooves of the album’s 13 tracks, but the band’s loose and tentative playing does nothing more than hint at them. At this point in their journey, none of the instrumentalists are quite accomplished enough to make their collective vision work. The lyrics are fun and clever — even if they occasionally are marred by Bohemian clichés that somehow seem more forgivable when sung in French. Rupa’s vocals are spirited and bold, but one feels that her style and technique are also in the early stages of their development. Perhaps, given the passion and love of music that Rupa & the April Fishes obviously possesses, the best way to experience the group, at this point, would be in a concert setting.
The music scene is changing faster than anyone possibly can keep up with it. Boundaries are coming down like never before, and styles are evolving at a pace that previously was unseen. Rupa & the April Fishes may have modeled its work after a preexisting sound, but the cultural background and diversity of the instrumentalists combine to create something potentially new and exciting. With Extraordinary Rendition, Rupa & the April Fishes joins other popular ethnic fusion/clash bands — such as Montreal’s Lhasa and Los Angeles’ Cambodian-inspired Dengue Fever — to lead the way toward making something that reflects influences that previously hadn’t been incorporated into popular songs. Rupa & the April Fishes is a band that remains embryonic, but if Extraordinary Rendition is any indication, the best is yet to come. ½
Of Further Interest...
Extraordinary Rendition is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box