Trail Mix – Che Apalache

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“Well, heck. I haven’t heard that before.

It’s rare for that thought to bounce around in my head when I pop a disc in and listen for the first time. I have the good fortune to listen to lots and lots of records, and many of them are nuanced in such a way as to offer something new and inventive from time to time, but rare is the occasion that I hear something completely out of left field that totally knocks me out.

Che Apalache, a Latin-infused acoustic quartet – complete with bluegrass instrumentation – based in Buenos Aires, Argentina did just that when I gave their new release, Rearrange My Heart, which was produced by banjo maestro Bela Fleck, its first spin.

You got all that right, too. Argentina. Bluegrass. Latin influences. It sounds crazy, but it works so right.

Che Apalache is breaking new ground at every turn. The band unabashedly takes on hot button issues like immigration in multiple songs on the new record, and Che Apalache is the first bluegrass band to be featured on Billboard Pride.

I recently caught up with singer/fiddler Joe Troop to chat about the new record, his band’s cross cultural sound, and getting political through song.

BRO – A bluegrass band with Latin influences? A Latin band with bluegrass influences? Why do you guys have me so confused?

JT – We started as a bluegrass band in Buenos Aires, which was fun for a number of years. We were able to introduce tons of people to the genre, and I got to maintain my musical roots and take the edge off the homesickness. But, in 2017, we decided to get fresh and expand our repertoire. The idea was to paint landscapes from all across the Americas, but with this peculiar combination of bluegrass instruments. I’m glad we made that shift. It feels more authentic.

BRO – How hard was it to find common ground, musically, between two influences that seem incredibly disparate?

JT – It was an exploration, both fun and challenging. Fusion requires intense experimental knowledge of each thing you’re trying to combine. If your human spirit can feel both of those things viscerally, only then can you fuse. So, to answer your question, it wasn’t necessarily hard, because we’d already lived the separate ingredients. Then we just let it flow.

BRO –  I found the mother in “The Dreamer” to be an incredibly empathetic figure. Is there any sense of hesitancy before tackling a powerful social issue like immigration in a song?

JT – Of course. I would not have tackled this subject if I hadn’t met the subjects of this song. I met Moises and his mom at a conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2017. I wrote the song with Moises’s permission and worked with him closely to accurately tell his story.  I myself am an immigrant. I have permanent residence status in Argentina and have lived there for a decade. This has allowed me to foster empathy for those that have chosen to immigrate to where I’m from.

BRO – Got a traditionally Latin instrument that you haven’t worked into a bluegrass tune that you really want to?

JT – We are interested in incorporating percussive instruments into the mix in the future, the bombo legüero, for starters.

BRO – We are featuring “Rearrange My Heart” on this month’s Trail Mix. What’s the story behind the song?

JT – The first part of this song is the result of attending a Moravian church as a child and singing Bach chorales. Just fiddle and voices is a cool concept. It reminds me of the organ. I wrote the second part at a late-night party in Buenos Aires, singing as I banged on a dunbek. Turns out it is in 9/8 time. It has a ton of influences: Rajasthani folk, British Isles ballad singing, bluegrass, pop. It’s the kind of mystical world music I feel directly results from a deep respect for all folk music traditions while using one as your guiding light, in our case bluegrass. We were wrestling with several possible titles for the album, and Béla suggested this being the title track. We got to thinking and realized it captures the overarching theme of the album; belief in the potential evolution of the human spirit.

You can catch Che Apalache in North Carolina, New York, Washington, D.C., Philly, and Nashville in the first couple weeks of September.

For more information on the band, their new record, and where else they will be on tour, please surf over to the band’s website.

And be sure to check out “Rearrange My Heart,” along with new tunes by Jason Hawk Harris, L.A. Edwards, Eilen Jewell, and many more on this month’s Trail Mix.

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