UCSF Resident Who Blends Music, Medicine to Perform Saturday Night

By Sharon Brock

Rupa Marya

As a doctor by day and a singer by night, third-year UCSF internal medicine resident Rupa Marya, MD, is living her dream. After a year of gaining momentum in San Francisco and a rousing summer tour in Europe, her world-fusion band, Rupa and the April Fishes, are celebrating their debut album with an Urban Circus Party on Saturday, Jan. 13, at The Independent, 628 Divisadero St., in San Francisco. Marya, 30, is an Indian woman who grew up in the Bay Area, France and India. She has known that she's wanted to be both a physician and a performer since childhood, and has found ways to achieve balance while pursuing both passions. "My kindergarten teacher asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I said, 'a surgeon and a ballerina.' She said I had to choose one. But I couldn't choose, and now I find I'm a better doctor when I'm an artist and I'm a better artist when I'm a doctor. The passion for both comes from the same source," says Marya. As the songwriter and vocalist for the group, Marya is inspired by her experiences as a physician and by the unique and emotional stories of each patient, such as one patient who lost her love of 40 years to cancer. Most of the songs on the new CD, eXtraOrdinary rendition, were written during her residency at UCSF. "People are so real with you when it's near the end of their life," Marya says. "I have been deeply affected by conversations and interactions with patients, and that's what drives me and inspires my music writing. With both medicine and music, I have the honor and privilege to be close with strangers, connect with them on an intellectual and emotional level, and create hope." Previously part of an American folk duo, Marya has gone back to her multicultural roots, tapping into several cultural genres and singing most of the songs in French. "What is created is a living music and lively performance which gives voice to the fluidity of experience moving between different places, a sonic examination of being at the edge of different cultural identities," according to her website. The six band members bring together an eclectic assortment of music traditions - mixing French chanson with Gypsy waltzes, Indian ragas, sultry tangos and bossa nova - to create a romantic and lyrical sound reminiscent of bohemian Paris. Marya's velvet voice is accompanied by a tango accordionist, classical cellist, jazz trumpeter, percussionist and upright bassist, creating both soothing lullabies and upbeat dance tracks. Special guests for Saturday's performance are jazz bassist Marcus Shelby and tabla drummer Bubai Sarkar. The concert - or Urban Circus Party - also will feature a flamenco dancer, stilt dancing and live mural painting by Mona Caron, who designed the CD artwork.

Extraordinary Times "Saturday will be a very unique night because it will be a collage of different artistic communities from San Francisco coming together," says Marya. "We went with the 'circus' concept because it is reflective of the political times we are living in. Everything looks beautiful on the outside, but there is an underlying ugliness. We're using this metaphor to wake people up to both the beauty and the ugliness of our country." The title of the CD, eXtraOrdinary rendition, is a commentary on the use of language by politicians. "They say 'interrogation' and what they're really saying is 'torture,'" says Marya. "The phrase 'extraordinary rendition' does not sound like torture; it sounds like a party. eXtraOrdinary rendition, as the CD title, is a euphemism to define our times." To make the point that people understand the real meaning behind words, whether in politics or in music, Marya sings in four different languages - English, French, Spanish and Hindi - letting the meaning of each song shine through. One song written in Hindi, "Yaad," is dedicated to her late father for whom Marya's voice soars in a heart-wrenching farewell. "Yaad" is also a tribute to all of her patients' families who've experienced loss. "With this song, I re-create the sound of my father's ashes being cast into the Pacific. I sing only one line, that means 'I miss you' in Hindi," says Marya. "Every time I sing it, I remember the feeling of my loss and the intense loss of my patients' families, and I put that energy into the song." Photo/Lars Howlett

Related Links:

Rupa Marya & the April Fishes website

Rupa and the April Fishes
SF Chronicle, July 20, 2006

Hear Rupa and the April Fishes:
c'est pas d'l'amour | lighthouse | la pecheuse

Watch Rupa and the April Fishes
Live performance, The Independent, San Francisco, May 21, 2006