Interview: Rupa and the April Fishes prepare for bicycle concert tour around the Bay Area
April 17, 2012
Written by Roman Gokhman
It’s the afternoon before her San Francisco band’s namesake holiday, April Fool’s Day, and Rupa Marya is taking a lunch break from preparations for Rupa and the April Fishes’ upcoming bicycle concert tour. Marya woke up early this morning to alter her bike to haul not just her but her music gear 200 miles over nine days this month.
“That meant taking the wheel off and adding this extension,” said the leader of the multicultural amalgam April Fishes as she pointed to a newly installed metal frame extension to her baby blue bicycle. “I also had to extend the back bike gear cable.” Marya knew nothing about altering bicycles; she picked it up at the nonprofit Bike Kitchen in the Mission, where instructors teach others how to repair their own bicycles. “Someone sat there with me and taught me how to do cabling – it was totally amazing to learn,” she said.
The desire to learn has pulled Marya for most of her life, not just musically, but in her other career as a doctor. It’s also the reason she wanted to trek around the Bay on a bike – to explore the connection people have with the history, wildlife and culture here.
Marya was born in the U.S. to Indian parents. When she was 4, she and her brother were temporarily sent to India to live with their grandparents while their parents struggled financially in the Bay Area. When she was 10, her parents moved the family to France. She now speaks four languages: English, French, Hindi and Spanish.
After moving back to the Bay Area, Marya studied medicine. In her spare time she performed solo with her guitar at coffee houses, art galleries and on the streets of the Mission. After one of these shows, in 2006, cellist Ed Baskerville convinced her to rehearse with him and later to start the April Fishes. The lineup now includes drummer Aaron Kierbel, cellist Misha Khalikulov, trumpet player Mario Alberto Silva and bassist Safa Shokrai.
The April Fishes’ name refers to the French April 1 tradition where some pin paper fish on unsuspecting people’s backs. The band mixes several international styles, such as French gypsy music, cabaret jazz, Latin rhythms and Afro-pop, while Marya sings in several languages to forge connections between cultures. The April Fishes have recorded and released two albums: 2008’s eXtraOrdinary rendition and 2009’s Este Mundo. A third album, Build, is on track for a September release.
“It’s in a little bit more of a raw direction for me; it’s more edgy but also tender,” Marya said. This time Marya added bits of another language to the mix: a Mayan dialect that she picked up while touring in Chiapas, Mexico. There, she noticed that many of the locals still regarded the indigenous Mayans as a lower class whose language was looked down upon. “(The Mayan vocals) are on a song called ‘Weeds,’” she said. “It’s about the resilience of things that people deemed discardable.”
In order to concentrate on recording the new album, Marya had to take a leave of absence from her job as a doctor of internal medicine at the University of California-San Francisco Medical Center. She is still on faculty, which means that in the event of an emergency, she would get called in to work. “But my time now is 90 percent music and 10 percent medicine,” she said. “I feel very inspired about the growth of our music. My goal is to live off my music and to do medicine for free.”
The sabbatical includes the Bay Rising bike tour, along with fellow San Francisco band Shake Your Peace!, which has orchestrated several bicycle tours. Following a traditional tour during which the April Fishes logged more than 10,000 miles on a bus around the country – seeing mostly the inside of a bus and performance halls – Marya said she wanted to try something unusual. “It’s a different experience when you see the world by bicycle or by walking,” she said. “It struck me that it would be amazing to circumnavigate the Bay, the body of water that we all live around and don’t have an intimate relationship with.”
Bay Rising will be an 11-stop tour at venues as traditional as The Independent (April 28), to nontraditional spaces such as Keller Beach Park in Richmond, an Ohlone Indian burial ground in Vallejo and at San Quentin Penitentiary in a show for inmates. “We had to submit all of our backgrounds, as well as a whole checklist of everything that would come with us; every guitar pick, every cable, every electrical plug,” Marya said.
For Bay Rising, the April Fishes and Shake Your Peace! partnered with Berkeley nonprofit Rock the Bike, which created pedal-powered speakers. “(Volunteers) pedal and it will generate the power needed for a sound system,” Marya said. “You can have something that is artist-driven, artist-run and audience-engaging.”
The final preparations for the tour, which was purposefully centered on Earth Week, included a test ride with all of the band’s gear to Sausalito and endurance runs. Sleeping accommodations were made at community centers and churches – anywhere with enough space to house 11 large bikes and gear. “We’ll travel 15 to 20 miles per day,” Marya said. “We’ll sleep on the floor, take a shower in the morning and go.”
(Ed. note: Below, find the latest details from Rupa and the April Fishes about the band’s Bay Rising Tour. Find the latest information on this Facebook event. Note that some shows are free, while others are not.)
APRIL 19th–Depart SF by BIKE–PALO ALTO–Stanford Synergy Collective at 8 pm! 550 San Juan St. Sliding scale donation-$1-25
APRIL 20th–SAN JOSE—SJ Bike Party. Live pedal-powered music presented in the middle of the ride. Time and route information posted here the week before the ride:
APRIL 21st–FREMONT – Earth Day Celebration–Meet up at Fremont Earth Day grounds at Washington Hospital 2500 Mowry Avenue Fremont at 3pm for group ride to pedal-powered show in outdoor setting.
APRIL 22nd–OAKLAND – Earth Day Dinner/Show at the Sustainable Living Center at 1121 64th Street, Oakland. Dinner provided by HomeGrown Farms. Dinner at 6pm, Show at 7pm. $20 for show with dinner, $10 for show alone. ALL AGES SHOW.
APRIL 23rd–RICHMOND–Keller Beach 1085 Dornan Drive, Richmond CA – 4 pm – After School – Bike to School Earth Week -Riparian Bike tours presents Water quality science before the show.
APRIL 24th–MARTINEZ–Martinez Plaza on Main Street, 4-6pm. FREE!
APRIL 25th GLEN COVE (VALLEJO) – 1pm. Ceremony at the GlenCove occupation site honoring the first human inhabitants of the SF Bay , the Ohlone, and inviting their presence into our present day awareness.
APRIL 26th–SAN RAFAEL—dance party at the Downtown San Rafael Farmer’s Market, Co-presented by Arizmendi Bakery. @ the plaza in front of Arizmendi Bakery: 1002 Fourth St. Music from 6-9pm. Bring tips. All ages.
APRIL 27th–SAUSALITO at The Seahorse. Doors 8pm, Show 9pm. Tickets $15
305 Harbor Drive, Sausalito, CA
APRIL 28th–San Quentin Penitentiary. Private Show. Sorry.
APRIL 28th–SAN FRANCISCO–Homecoming celebration at THE INDEPENDENT. It will sell out. Get your tickets NOW !