Rising Appalachia brings folk-fusion to Greensboro

by Rebecca Harrelson

Sisters Chloe Smith and Leah can bring an entire room to a free spirited high. These women along with their band members Biko Casini and David Brown are gracing the Carolina Theater stage tonight. Their soul freeing harmonies of Rising Appalachia are hypnotic. Using multiple artistic influences and instruments, Rising Appalachia never falls short of making their audience feel uplifted.

YES! Weekly!: What’s the origin of the name “Rising Appalachia? How did that name come about?

RA: Leah dreamed the name when we first started as an expression of where we were coming from and where we were wanting to go. She called me the next day and we both agreed that it was a perfect fit.

Y!W: What genre of music do you consider your work to be?

RA: Genre-less. Although, if we have to choose, we say world-folk or folk-fusion or sometimes, when we are feeling rowdy”¦. crunk-folk. Anything that expresses the bridge between folk music and all the multitude of other influences we have.

Y!W: Who/what are your major musical influences?

RA: We have countless musical inspirations mostly leaning heavily on world roots music, old- time Appalachian, early underground hip hop, and trad Irish. Quite an odd cd collection in our cars!!!

The Horseflies were a huge early inspiration to us! Bruce Molsky (among others) played a few workshops and jams in our living room when we were kids, and we have always been greatly inspired by Bruce’s technique and grace in the old time music world. (C: His ability to harmonize singing with his own fiddle playing is still a complete magic trick to me and I look forward to every chance that I get to stick my ear into one of the jam sessions he’s rockin’ out. )

Lastly, we draw huge inspiration from the original source of the banjo and the majestic sounds of West Africa with musicians such as Ali and Vieux Farka Toure, Toumani Diabate, Rokia Traore, Baba Maal, Bela Fleck and The Africa Sessions, and Bassekou Koyuate, as well as many other world music artists across the globe.

Y!W: What’s it like being in a band with your sister?

RA: Well”¦. multi-layered and deep of course. Things last a lot longer because we can’t break up ! And there is the whole telepathy thing that siblings have, which works wonders on stage when we are trying to signal each other for musical queues. Its a treat to work with blood family as well as the ever-growing family that we make along each tour route.

Y!W: When did you form your band? What inspired you to make music together?

RA: Chloe- We grew up in downtown Atlanta, GA rather immersed and happily steeped in both traditional music: Appalachian, Irish, Jazz, and world harmony singing from our parents and their musical community, as well as in the urban pulse of underground hip hop, soul and the spoken-word movement. Although that might seem an unusual combination of influences, we had fun navigating the cultural melting pot and bouncing from fiddle festivals in the Appalachian mountains on the weekends to our downtown high-school and underground dance clubs in the city and have found the overlap to be a huge creative inspiration in our work as musicians, performers, storytellers, and bridge builders. I think the inspiration to play together came from a very natural birth place of authenticity of expression via our family and our community.

Leah- It’s a fun story, as we really never set out to make a music project. We wanted to create a song homage for our family as a thank you for their creative dedication to us-we made an album in one afternoon in a friend’s basement.

Y!W: Do you have a record label? Are you a member of any music organizations?

RA: We have chosen to run this project for the past 8 years grassroots and independently without labels. It’s been an incredible PHD experience in running a business and learning the insides of the music industry by hand, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Y!W: What can you tell me about the instruments you use?

RA: The band collectively plays banjo, guitar, baritone guitar, fiddle, ngoni, double bass, bara( or calabash), congas, djembe, and boudhran. All these instruments have relationship with different parts of the world as do we, and it’s been a wonderful creative journey sorting out how and when they come into play in our songs.

Y!W: How has your music evolved since you first began playing music together? You cover many important social, environmental issues- have those been areas of interest for you both? What draws you to making music encompassing those?

RA: We want to create a place where live music is a community gathering experience. We hope that in attending one of our concerts or shows that we can create a bigger impact, encouraging people to dialog and join forces in local community building. We try and make each live performance a myriad of experiences: a dance party, a place of nurture, a dialog about how to uplift communities, a political questioning, a call to action, a respite. We hope that every song will reach somewhere that we may never know, but that it brings a moment of place back into someone’s life. And that we are all entitled to a music, a story and a sound that is telling our story, that we are making and holding our own traditions and we need everyone’s voice.

Y!W!: “Slow Music Movement”¦removing the glitz and glam from the music industry.” I’ve read this term in your past interviews what is this movement entail?

RA: The Slow Music Movement is a term that we’ve taken to create an overall umbrella of all the different things that we want to be doing through this project. It’s a much bigger pursuit than just entertainment. That’s been an important and clear thing for us from the get-go “” how can music be a public service? How can it create more camaraderie? How can it create and foster more relationships locally?

We want to have relationships with the farmers and the food of each region and also to have a relationship with different educational initiatives and non-profits. We have a policy that at each show at least two non-profits are welcome, invited “” non-profits or educational initiatives, arts justice projects “” to the show to set up tables and let the audiences know, as well as ourselves, what’s going on locally. So you can come to a Rising Appalachia show and get information on what’s going on in your own community, and create bridges and partnerships and collaborations within the audiences, within people who have come there to dance or to sing or to mourn, or whatever it is that brings them to a music event, that they can leave having more experience with what’s going on locally.

I think it’s a blueprint that has exponential growth potential, and we have lots of ideas. We are always collecting ideas from other people, other touring performing arts space organizations, to see how we can keep moving this in an integrated and integrative way.

Y!W: What would you want your listeners to come away with after hearing your music or seeing you perform?

RA: We want people to come away from our show both soothed and ignited. Called to action. Peacefully harmonized and lulled into a state of unity and dance party and family and social justice and front porch vibrations. We want folks to come away from our shows connected to themselves and their own walks of life as well as connected to the local community through the nonprofits we invite out to table at each show. Grounded. Enlivened. Courageous. Opened up.