The Argentinian World-Music Ensemble Will Perform at G.A.R. Hall Sept. 21
by Brittany Nader
In Latin America, a growing number of musicians have a desire to learn traditional North American music, says Che Apalache bandleader Joe Troop. Yet political tensions run deep in the cultures of the two countries, making a fusion of the styles complex and rarely heard. Troop’s Argentina-based world-music quartet has made great strides bridging that gap with a genre they call “Latingrass.” The style fuses tango, a sensual form of music that originated among European immigrants in Argentina, with bluegrass, a high-energy style influenced by Appalachian folk music.
Che Apalache’s sound is formed by traditional American roots instrumentation that includes mandolin, fiddle, banjo and guitar, but with a distinctly Latin American-inspired sound that bridges genres.
The band is in the midst of its 2018 U.S. Road Doggin’ tour and will make a stop at G.A.R. Hall in Peninsula on Sept. 21 to introduce the local community to their distinctive blend of worldly music.
When Joe traveled from the U.S. to Spain to study abroad for two years, he met Argentinian immigrants who exposed him to new music styles that served as a gateway for him to become acquainted with their community and culture. In 2010, Joe moved to Argentina to teach bluegrass music and to join forces with musicians once unfamiliar with the style.
“Bluegrass is an unknown world in Argentina,” Joe says. “Some people heard it in cartoons growing up, or certain television shows and movies, but it was portrayed more as a grotesque stereotype of Texan culture. The people who were into it were mostly musicians attracted to the sound.”
Bluegrass runs deep in the roots of American history, painting a sonic picture of rural regions and the lives of those who have resided there for centuries. Joe’s background in bluegrass began when he was 15 years old, having listened to and played the music during a hiking trip in the Appalachian Mountains. He was taken by the string-band sound his camp counselors played. He was attracted to the idea of becoming a multi-instrumentalist, inspired by his travels and exposure to traditional music styles in regions across the globe.
Joe now primarily plays fiddle in Che Apalache. He is joined by former students Pau Barjau on banjo, Franco Martino on guitar and Martin Bobrik on mandolin. Joe says they were his most dedicated students when he taught in Argentina, and they quickly became picking buddies outside of the classroom. Martin and Pau were already taking lessons to learn American rock ‘n’ roll, and bluegrass was intriguing to the players who were interested in playing global music.
Joe serves as the group’s primary composer, which was a natural progression from serving in the role of instructor when his bandmates were still beginners with traditional American bluegrass playing.
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“We have a good flow, the four of us,” Joe says. “Everyone brings different creative elements. It’s always a huge pleasure to watch the material be born and the sound evolve more creatively.”
Members of the band have lived in Mexico and Japan, bringing musical influences from their time outside of Buenos Aires. Joe says Franco plays his instrument percussively, which adds an eclectic sense of rhythm to the group’s sound. And the band’s broad musical preferences, which include punk rock, gypsy jazz, indie rock and, of course, tango and bluegrass, have created a colorful assortment of blocks used to build Che Apalache’s multi-layered sound.
“I was experienced with the concept of fusion before putting together the quartet since I worked in the [music] discipline,” Joe says. “Being an immigrant inspires you to fuse your sound because your life is already fused in a way.”
The spirit of this fusion of backgrounds, influences, styles and cultures is captured in Che Apalache’s 2017 release, “Latingrass,” an 11-track collection of Latin-bluegrass songs written in English and Spanish. Of note, “Tilingo Lingo” sounds like a blend of mariachi, bluegrass, tango and percussion that is reminiscent of a horse trot. The album’s final track, “The Wall,” is a vocal triumph, reflective of traditional Appalachian chants without instrumentation. The entire album could serve as a piece of historical significance, as it blends genres and melds traditional musical practices from two countries with decades of tensions.
Last year, Che Apalache was awarded grants from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the North Carolina Humanities Council to travel across the United States playing their multicultural music. One stop was at the Appalachian String Band Festival in Clifftop, W.Va., where the group received the first-place prize in the Neo-Traditional Band competition. It was in Clifftop where Joe met G.A.R. Hall’s sound engineer and booked a show for September as one stop in their current three-month tour.
“We are living the dream right now running up miles on the van,” Joe says. “We’re playing a lot of shows, conventions and performance arts conferences to showcase our work. Ohio is a completely unknown territory for us. It’s our first time in that geographic region. We’re doing some serious road dogging at the moment.”
Joe says the four-piece ensemble will perform new material on the tour and has enough songs to record a new album at the end of the year. Their second album is set to be released in spring 2019. In the meantime, Che Apalache will continue to showcase their Latingrass world music across the Midwest and up through the East Coast, introducing the U.S. to an eclectic style that is rich in cultural and historical significance.
Catch Che Apalache as they make their way to the G.A.R. Hall stage Friday, Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. as part of their “U.S. Road Doggin’ 2018” tour. Pre-sale tickets are $12 a piece. G.A.R. Hall is located at 1785 Main St. in Peninsula.
Brittany Nader has been a professional writer and marketer in Akron for the last five years.
(All photos used with permission from Che Apalache)