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Rupa and the April Fishes – Growing Upwards Album Review

by Guest Blogger Samuel Allen

A river runs through Growing Upward, the latest from Rupa and the April Fishes. A river of water imagery and a river of emotion – joy, anger, hope, exhaustion.

“We are the ones who are rising with the water”. “Patiently waiting for the rain to release”. “Stars fall into oceans deep.” There’s even a track simply entitled “Water Song”. For vocalist Rupa Marya, water is a means of motion and revolution, a method of healing and reflection.

Album opener “Growing Upward” showcases Marya’s vocal multitudes, a mix of evocative, airy high notes and rapid-fire sprechgesang, bouncing over syncopated rhythms and horror flick screeching from the string section. This furious mixture continues with “Frontline”, a track in which Mayra highlights a world where law enforcement kills with impunity and only protects the powerful. Her anger and frustration is real and visceral.

“Heathen” is a scathing indictment of the careless forces complicit in the death of the planet. “Where You From” offers Marya’s erudite response to the question so innocuously, yet insidiously posed to people of color – “so where are you really from?”.

The tempo slows on “Rain Come Home”, and the full band comes together for an effect that’s something cinematic. The swirl of the strings, gentle guitar arpeggios, and comforting stomp of the drums lays a foundation for Rupa’s soaring flourishes. You can almost smell the petrichor of fresh rainfall, feel your heart moved by something a bit indescribable.

“Water Song” is Rupa Marya’s hope, and perhaps her fear. “The water will save me”, she sings, only later to intone “the water will take me”. In letting the water overtake her, she finds herself in a strange world she doesn’t fully understand. “The water will change me”, she ends.

“Lay My Head Down” offers sunny reggae rhythms and breezy harmonies. Rupa and the April Fishes embrace their inner “yeehaw” on “Stay”, a sauntering plea for a special someone to stick around a little while longer. “Eena Meena Deeka” is the band’s playful rendition of a time-honored Kishore Kumar song.

“I Don’t Want To Get Arrested”, “Stolen Land”, and “Yelamu (We Are Still Here)” is a rumination on the violence of the past, and the hope for the future. The brutality of unchecked police action, the unconscionable avarice of colonial powers, and the denial of basic human rights to the oppressed. Album closer “Yelamu” in particular lays out a manifesto for a better future–where all people are free to be as they are, regardless of where they look like, where they come from, or where they want to go.

It’s a prescient album for troubling times, for the rising tides of fascism in 2019 and the creeping shorelines of the apocalypse that awaits us some twenty years from now. Police violence, the nefarious legacy of colonialism, the ongoing horror of capitalism, the failure of healthcare to protect the needy – Rupa’s music is insistent that the time for solutions is now, now, now.

You can download the full album on iTunes or stream it on Spotify.

Samuel lives in Austin. He likes riding bicycles, reading French, taking photos, and mixing old-fashioneds. Sam has been described as “decent on defense” by his fourth-grade soccer coach. His photography and more can be seen at www.sambiguous.com.

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