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Performer Magazine - Rising Appalachia

Performer Magazine - Rising Appalachia

30 OCTOBER 2009

30 OCTOBER 2009 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

Leah and Chloe Smith never chose to be musicians, music chose them. From their childhood upbringing in Atlanta with parents who exposed them firsthand to Appalachian folk songs, jazz and the blues, to embracing the spoken word and hip-hop scenes as teenagers at Grady High School, the sisters were engulfed in music. They did, however, choose to re-evaluate and reform themselves, becoming the collective RISE. Formerly Rising Appalachia, they changed their name “as an indication of a transformation in space, mission, drive, ideals, voice and sound,” as their MySpace manifesto explains. The sisters play banjo and fiddle, but experiment with R&B flavor and are usually accompanied by percussionist Imhotep. And their performances can have up to 12 on stage. Their sound is sometimes filled out by trumpeter Maurice Turner, bassist John Branigan or by the inclusion of countless instruments like the spoons, washboard or kalimba (thumb piano). Spoken word artists Gypsy-O and Teresa Davis often grace their shows. Marcia Jones may do live art alongside them or they may entice the crowd to dance along as they shimmy while singing “Booties for Obama.” One constant is that RISE engages their audience and immerses them in an experience. They share songs learned while traveling around the world and dare listeners to venture past their comfort zones and make deeper connections them. We’ve never spent seven, nine, 10, 12 months in a studio recording with Pro Tools and fixing and editing everything. Everything we’ve ever recorded has been one take or two takes, live recording, everybody playing at once. It’s not a perfect product in the land of music, but it maintains a whole lot of personality. I’d like to hope that some of the flaws and mishaps become ways that we can maintain humanity.” Though she modestly speaks of blemishes, their sound comes off as seamless and polished. Musically, Leah and Chloe are avid philanthropists. When RISE is on the stage, they perform to elevate humankind, using the power of their voices and skilled instrumentation to unify, inspire and move to action. They are connecting people worldwide, whether singing a Congolese folk song or taking on the perspective of a post-Katrina man who sees “all this water coming out [his] sink a world journey, integrating our own flavor through the whole thing” with these songs. The original material that RISE delivers is a message that rings out with vibrancy, delivered in subdued tones. In the spoken word piece “State Of The Nation,” Leah muses bluntly, “I sent razor blades and cigar boxes and food kept out in blockades to the wolves and the foxes…in this nation declaration visitation intact/that makes itself bigger on the global map/that swims with the sharks and pummels the shacks/and lays its head down in the corporate lap.” After lamenting, she goes the extra mile to enumerate steps to achieving a more just America and paints a vision of the beautiful future we can expect as a result. “Stop funding the fight and start funding the farmer…we could educate our people and bring forth the thunder of a nation so powerful, OCTOBER 2009 PERFORMER MAGAZINE 31

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