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Leading a Dual-Life: Rupa Marya, M.D.; Rupa Marya, Bandleader of Rupa & the April Fishes

The colourful San Francisco Bay Area band, Rupa & the April Fishes pack an extensive variety of musical genres and sounds from Gypsy swing, American folk, Latin cumbias, and even hints of Indian ragas. Songwriter and bandleader Rupa Marya, who also happens to be a doctor, writes in a number of languages, including French, Spanish, Hindi and English. Socially conscious themes are succinctly woven into her lyrics.
Photo by Judith Burrows Rupa & the April Fishes

Rupa Marya leads a double life - she's not only a practicing doctor of medicine, but also band leader of Rupa and the April Fishes. Rupa’s parents moved to California in the early 1970s, and when Rupa was 10, the family moved to the south of France. She started out writing songs in English, but fell into composing music in French, Spanish and Hindi.

She spoke with Uttara Choudhury in New York about her love for socially conscious musicShe is passionate about the human impact of US anti-immigration policies and how it affects a patient’s ability to seek health care. She says that she has seen countless immigrants seeking medical attention too late in their illness for fear of being deported from the U.S.

The band’s debut album, “eXtraOrdinary rendition' followed by 'Este Mundo' - brims with a variety of styles from Argentinean tango, Gypsy swing, American folk, Latin cumbias and even hints of Indian ragas. 

You have the songwriting scope and ability to write in a number of languages, including French, Spanish, Hindi and English. How did you develop such an ear for language?

“I am not a language expert. But I do love building and crossing bridges and learning another's language is a good place to start.”

I think it's because my family moved so much and I was constantly exposed to several languages as a child. Language is musical and mathematical. And my mind tends to enjoy both of those things. I am not a language expert. But I do love building and crossing bridges and learning another's language is a good place to start.

Your band packs an extensive variety of musical genres and sounds from Gypsy swing, American folk, Latin cumbias, and even hints of Indian ragas. How would you describe your sound?

I describe it as the kind of music you'd hear at a bazaar where several streets from several countries from around the world intersected at one point. We'd be at that spot, getting the party started. I call it global music, the sound of people with global identities making music, drawing from our different roots. 

You dedicated Yaad to your late father. Was he supportive of your music or keen that you stick with medicine which many Indian parents tend to view as a safer bet?

“I describe it as the kind of music you'd hear at a bazaar where several streets from several countries from around the world intersected at one point.”

My father was supportive of me following my dreams, but as an Indian parent, he felt that medicine was a safer investment than music. He valued my hard work, no matter how I applied it. Typically Indian parents (especially Indian immigrant parents) don't see careers in the arts as a good idea. Eventually my family became a huge support for what I do. As I found my voice more in music, their support grew as well. 

Rupa & the April Fishes "Une americaine a Paris"

 

Besides being a songwriter and bandleader you also happen to be a doctor, so how do you divide your time between your musical career and caring for patients. Do you think that you will have to make a choice at some point?

I work as a hospitalist in San Francisco at the university. I work six months in the hospital, with no outpatient duties. So when I'm not here, I do not have clinical duties. The other six months, I spend time on the road, or working on music with the band. There are times in my life where I have had to focus more on one and then the other but since I graduated from residency, things are falling into a beautiful balance that I look forward to watching, and seeing how it grows.

You have championed the human impact of US anti-immigration policies. Can you talk a about focusing on issues through your music.

“This global migration, this global clandestine slave labor force is something of utmost importance to look at, examine and shed light upon. I feel music is a facet where larger issues of our current existence can be examined through a careful lens.”

All things that affect humans or shed a light on our existence should be up for digestion through art and music. For me, immigration has become a huge issue, not only in the US but around the world. There are a large number of people living without protected rights who are giving their hard labor which keeps this system running. This global migration, this global clandestine slave labor force is something of utmost importance to look at, examine and shed light upon. I feel music is just one facet where larger issues of our current existence can be examined through a careful lens.

Are there any more Indian origin musicians in your ensemble?

No. We have a Russian-Polish Jewish drummer who was born in Los Angeles, an Ukranian-Uzbek cellist who immigrated to the US at four-years-old, a Polish-American accordionist who studied with the Roma (gypsies) in Romania, an African American trumpet player who was raised in St Louis and the Virgin Islands and a Persian bassist who escaped after the 1979 revolution by horseback to Turkey and later came to the US. No other desis. But [the band] loves desi music!

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