Archive for July 2019

Che Apalache: Rearrange My Heart

July 14, 2019

Rearrange My Heart is the debut album by Buenos Aires-based string band Che Apalache. Their musical style has been called ‘Latingrass’ as one of their aims is to mix American roots and bluegrass with Latin music. They are led by singer and fiddler Joe Troop, originally from North Carolina, while the other musicians are from Argentina and Mexico. The album is produced by the renowned banjo player Béla Fleck.

It’s an unusual blend and the band have been getting very positive feedback from their live shows. The vocals are in English, Spanish and Japanese. Yes, that’s right. For tucked in amongst all the fiddles, guitars, mandolins and banjos is a song called 春の便り (The Coming of Spring). This is sung in Japanese and sounds very much like a folk song with origins far away from Buenos Aires or the mountains of Appalachia.

The band’s much-travelled leader Joe Troop has lived in Europe, Morocco and Japan where he was able to explore lots of different music and culture before moving on to Argentina in 2010 where he eventually formed the current band.

Troop explains the choice of the album’s Japanese song, on which he is also the vocalist: “For two years I lived in Kamimura, a 600 person village in the Japanese Alps that preserves a very ancient traditional culture. This song is greatly influenced by the music I encountered in rural Japan. It paints the portrait of the coming of spring in a small mountainous village in southern Nagano Prefecture. There’s a lot of weird string exploration in this one: playing behind the nut and bridge on the non-bowed instruments, using the guitar like a cajón, false harmonics played on fiddle in unison with whistling.”

Che Apalache (Photo: Mauro Milanich and Andrés Corbo)

The album begins with a traditional greeting in the Uruguayan murga style and then the musical fun gets going. But there is a serious theme too and at its heart is the song ‘The Dreamer’ based on the story of Troop’s friend Moises Serrano who was the subject of a documentary ‘Forbidden: Undocumented and Queer in Rural America’. It contains the verse most relevant here: “Now, you and I can sing a song / and we can build a congregation / but only when we take a stand / will we change our broken nation”.

Also, very much to the point is ‘The Wall’ with its brutally honest lyrics lamenting Trump’s ridiculous rhetoric. Another powerful song and musical standout ‘Rock of Ages’ is a gospel-laden bluegrass-style warning against politicians who use fundamentalist religion to bolster their campaigns.

A stated aim of the band is to create a real musical union between North and South America. Troop’s fiddle is influenced by elements of flamenco, jazz manouche, and swing as well as the bluegrass he has been teaching in Argentina and whenever he takes the lead the temperature rises. His fellow musicians are Franco Martino (guitar), Martin Bobrik (mandolin), and Pau Barjau (banjo).

This is a fine album that draws in the listener with some great musicianship and then subverts the narrative from within with songs tackling topics of immigration, hate-filled politics and more, plus that unexpectedly entertaining detour into Japanese minyo.

The Power of Okinawa is pleased to be able to give a premiere here to the song 春の便り (The Coming of Spring):

Rearrange My Heart will be released by Free Dirt Records on 9th August. Che Apalache are currently touring the USA. Details of live dates are on their website.

https://freedirt.net/

www.cheapalache.com

Advertisements

End of an Era?

July 11, 2019

The most depressing piece of roots music news lately has been the announcement that UK magazine fRoots is suspending publication. This comes just as its latest issue celebrates 40 years of existence, and earlier this year the magazine was the recipient of a lifetime achievement award at Folk Alliance International in Canada.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I have been a contributing writer to the magazine for many years. The opportunity to write for them has given me a comparatively rare overseas platform for the introduction and promotion of Okinawan music.

Unlike the big corporate sponsored publications, fRoots has remained independent all this time under its founder and editor Ian Anderson. It has been at the forefront in championing the more adventurous, independent, sometimes downright wacky ‘local music from out there’ – an essential guide for anyone with an interest in folk, roots and what became known for a time as ‘world music’.

The magazine paid regular attention to music from Okinawa and the Ryukyu Islands, and writer Paul Fisher and I have frequently been able to indulge our island music enthusiasms in its pages. So much so that the relatively unknown Jun Yasuba & An-chang Project even found themselves on the front cover in the April 2000 issue!

One of the most satisfying experiences for me was being able to interview the late Shouei Kina in a long leisurely conversation that ended up as a three-page feature in the June 2003 edition. And last year I was able to report on the Basque Ryukyu Project. In fact, it was an early fRoots CD that initially sparked my interest in the Basques at the end of the last century.

Many of the articles I wrote for fRoots can be accessed on the Features Archive category of this blog. Another I was still writing when the news came through will eventually be completed and included in the archive. The difficulty of running a print magazine independently is a sign of the times. But it may not be the end yet and fRoots may live on, at least in its online form. Thanks to Ian Anderson for all his hard work. Now he deserves a rest!

For more on fRoots and its demise see the article in this week’s Guardian:

www.theguardian.com/music/2019/jul/08/froots-british-folk-magazine-underground-music

The fRoots website is at:

www.frootsmag.com