21st October 2020:
Rising Appalachia has been on my radar for a while and today seems like a good day to appreciate their thoughtful style of Folk. The band represents more than just music and the founding siblings, Leah Song and Chloe Smith, have used their talents and time to support some good causes.
Sisters Leah Song & Chloe Smith – the driving force of Rising Appalachia
Leah and Chloe had mixed musical influences while growing up in Atlanta. They would regularly travel to fiddle camps and Appalachian music gatherings with their parents on the weekends while immersing themselves in the popular music on the Atlanta scene during the week, which included hip-hop, Soul and R&B. When Leah finished high school she decided to explore her horizons and travel abroad.
She taught herself to play the banjo so as to combat her homesickness while living in South Mexico. When sister Chloe visited her a few years later she picked up some banjo lessons from her sister and the two began to gel as a musical unit. When they returned to the States they decided to record a CD as a gift for family and friends and to sell to audiences when they played at farmer’s markets. After being booked for a Celtic Christmas tour of Atlanta, the stock of 500 CDs that they thought would last them years had all sold within two performances.
The sisters released a second album, ‘Scale Down’ in 2007. Their growing commitment to social issues and concerns saw them form the RISE Collective, a diverse collaboration of performers that include artists, dancers, teachers, circus performers, poets and the like who perform along with Rising Appalachia at youth centres, schools, prisons etc.
I’m starting with the song ‘Medicine’ from the 2015 album ‘Wider Circles’.
Rising Appalachia is an excellent example of two people committed to using their talents for the betterment of their environment, and this has been exemplified in their methods of touring. For example, on their Wider Circles tour, in the spirit of the ‘Slow Music Movement’ (a term coined by Leah for a TedX talk), they travelled by Amtrak train to lessen their environmental impact.
The band’s concern for the smaller communities have seen them form a policy where they invite at least two non-profit organizations to set up at their shows to educate both audiences, and the sisters, about what is happening in each area they visit. Rising Appalachia’s Fertile Grounds Tour in 2016 saw them partner with the Permaculture Action Movement and host a series of permaculture action days to coincide with some of their performance dates so as to help audiences understand the importance, principles and application of permaculture (a topic close to my own heart).
One of the reasons that the sisters have managed to stay true to their principles is due to the decision to remain independent as artists, refusing offers from various agencies and labels while self-funding their albums. Remarkably they have built up a global following with their own brand of self-promotion and regular appearances at major festivals, local and international, where they are a popular drawcard.
I’ve chosen the second song from their 2019 album, ‘Leylines’, the first album where they involved an outside producer to help them. It’s a stunning song about the rite of passage to a higher form of love. Here’s the song ‘Harmonize’. 😎
Leah Song and Chloe Smith are multi-instrumentalists, and although they consider their voices their primary instruments, also play the banjo, bodhran, guitar, fiddle and a whole slew of percussion instruments.
Regular band members include David Brown (bass and guitar), Biko Casini (percussion) are often bolstered with world musicians with influences from counties as diverse as Africa, Ireland and Australia. This fusion makes the stunning blend of Folk, World and urban music that has become their calling card.
I am happy that the Rising Appalachia sisters realised that being full-time musicians could also be a component of a greater overall vision. Unlike many big names and mega-stars whose every charitable deed is covered to a point of contrivance by the media, these girls just keep their heads down and consistently stay focussed on their objective, and that is advocating for social justice, racial justice, environmental justice and indigenous rights.
The closing song I have chosen was released on YouTube a few days ago and is a collaboration with Dirtwire, an American based World music outfit, whose electronics bring a whole new depth to the sisters’ sound. It is a song about natures’ eventual reclaiming of the land, and it is beautiful. Here’s ‘Pulse’.
Thank you for joining me to explore a little of Rising Appalachia. I think it’s been a worthwhile journey. Catch you soon. 😎
The Loving the Music mini-features are written and compiled by me to support Loving the Music Facebook page and group. Join the community for regular themed three-part posts that do do more than just share a song.
The Author owns no copyright on the images or videos in this article. All images and links sourced from YouTube and Google and within the public domain.
Words © Andrew Knapp 2020