Musical sisters offer activist message
After touring for a full year to record their new album, R.I.S.E. sisters Leah and Chloe Smith took a four-month hiatus to study and teach yoga and volunteer with impoverished youths in India.
For Leah, it was a reality check-in that she can function just as well in a stationary setting with a regular daytime schedule.
“That was a nice reminder that I could be in one place for a time, not necessarily in the U.S., but I could take up local residency somewhere,” she said during a telephone interview just after coming up for air while fixing the band’s veggie-oil bus somewhere in California.
With the release of its third album, “Evolutions in Sound: Live,” R.I.S.E. (formerly Rising Appalachia) is reintroducing itself as a six-piece band with global consciousness on a national tour that comes Monday to Empyrean Coffee House.
The Smith sisters have made a lifestyle of studying and teaching abroad, and that expanded perspective is what informs the activist message in music of R.I.S.E.
Leah said she and her sister have always been politically minded, from the animal rights posters she made in first grade to her post-high school decision to study Spanish in Mexico.
“When I was 18 I made the decision to pursue self-education though travel rather than traditional college,” said the 28-year-old, Atlanta-based artist.
“I began to understand the politics of America and how it’s viewed internationally. Even just in terms of waste and food distribution, there is a lot of gluttony and ignorance in this country.”
Today, Leah said she and Chloe spend more time out of the country than in it, and “home” is something of an internal sense she experiences in a portable state of existence.
Throughout their travels, music was a quintessential part of the cultural exchange, and the sisters put together an informal music project that grew into a full-time career, Rising Appalachia.
What started as a traditional bluegrass duet has exploded into a multifaceted mission for global change, coupling community outreach with a live variety show and sound carnival that often is highlighted by magicians, jugglers and firespinners.
Even through they had built a solid following nationally, especially on the East Coast, Leah and Chloe decided that since they were incorporating elements of hip-hop, soul, funk and world sounds, it was time to drop the “Appalachia” in the band’s name to reflect its broader worldview.
“This started as a whimsical project,” Chloe said. “In addition to traditional banjo, fiddle and vocal harmonies that would be categorized as old-timey folk or bluegrass, we now have elements of world fusion.”
They invested in musicians who cover a diverse array of skills, including jazz trumpet, djembe, baliphone, congas, didgeridoo, tablas, harmonica, beatboxing and performance poetry.
All of these textures can be felt on the “Evolutions in Sound: Live,” which contains 14 previously unreleased tracks.
The in-the-moment, warts-and-all album captures the raw emotion and improvisation of a R.I.S.E. show, which is the whole purpose of the music in its purest form, Leah said.
“The music is only a temporary place to make use of activism. We use the stage as a platform because it’s so powerful and everyone depends on music,” she said, paraphrasing the Zapatistas manifesto: “The point of music is to make the revolution irresistible.”
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