Ideas. Stories. Community.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Che Apalache Hopes To Open Minds And Ears With Their Latin Bluegrass Fusion


Music can bring people together. And for the group we're about to learn about next, this moment of division in America presents an opportunity. It's a four-man string band, an Argentinean bluegrass band. They have been touring in the American South this summer, getting noticed by people from all sorts of backgrounds. Sandy Hausman of Virginia Public Radio has more.

SANDY HAUSMAN, BYLINE: In the mountains of Appalachia, farming and forestry are big, and the region relies heavily on immigrants from Mexico and Latin America to trim and harvest its vines and fruit trees. In Harrisonburg, Va., for example, nearly 20 percent of the population identifies as Hispanic. In Winchester, it's just over 17 percent. They don't mix much with longtime locals, which is why some people are intrigued by a band called Che Apalache.

JOE TROOP: Che is ubiquitous in Argentina. It's a way of saying buddy or pal. It's what you would use to grab someone's attention, like, hey, che. And Apalache means Appalachian.

HAUSMAN: Joe Troop is an American who's been playing bluegrass since he was 15.


CHE APALACHE: (Singing) Well, I make me a trip each and every single year, though quite a many tell me I'm insane. I pitch a tent before it's dark along the fence at old Felt's Park knee-deep in mud or in the sun or in the rain.

HAUSMAN: He took the music with him to Spain during two years of study abroad, met many Argentinian musicians and artists there and eventually joined them in Buenos Aires, where he now teaches banjo. That's how he met Martin Bobrik.

MARTIN BOBRIK: I've seen banjos and bluegrass music in cartoons when I was a little kid. Bugs Bunny played a banjo. Also, thanks to Internet and YouTube I found out that the name of the style was bluegrass.

HAUSMAN: Bobrik signed up for lessons, and so did Pau Barjau. They were already playing American rock and were ready for a new musical adventure.

PAU BARJAU: We're all globalized people. We got to the banjo because of this globalization. But there's nothing like sitting down and seeing a bluegrass jam live, you know?

HAUSMAN: As Che Apalachee, Barjau, Bobrik, Troop and the fourth member of the group, Franco Martino, play a fusion of traditional Latin songs and bluegrass. Here, for example, they use banjo and mandolin to present a tango.


CHE APALACHE: (Singing) Maria, Maria del agua, Maria del cielo, que linda Maria.

HAUSMAN: At other times, they perform mountain tunes without a hint of their Hispanic roots.


CHE APALACHE: Take that man away.

HAUSMAN: So far, though, Barjau says bluegrass hasn't caught fire in Argentina's capital.

BARJAU: The people that come to see us in Buenos Aires - we're like something exotic. It's almost like going to a museum, some cultural thingy that's, like, classy and stuff, which - bluegrass is not that. You know, that's not the real spirit of bluegrass.

TROOP: Are you saying bluegrass isn't classic?


BARJAU: No, it is. It can be. But we wish that people would, like, get a little bit drunk and start dancing. But they are all, like, sitting with their hand on their jeans and doing like, oh, listen to that. That's really interesting.


CHE APALACHE: (Singing in Spanish).

HAUSMAN: Here in the states, however, their sound was a hit with audience members Harlin Fields, Lauren Wasman and Edwin Soto.

HARLIN FIELDS: It's bluegrass, but it's definitely a Latino slant to it. I think it's great. (Laughter) I loved it.

LAUREN WASMAN: The first time I heard these guys, like, I almost hit the ground. They're, like, super innovative. I mean, I've never heard anything like it.

EDWIN SOTO: The lyrics and their music have some kind of story or background that come from the Latino culture. And I love the mixture of kind of the Appalachian style. The combination of the cultures - it's part of the story. It's part of the U.S. right now. So I'm happy it's happening.


CHE APALACHE: (Singing) Come friends, come friends. Come gather round for to sing, sing we joyfully. Let us sing about a better world where different paths have been unfurled.

HAUSMAN: And this song called "The Wall" won an enthusiastic response from a largely Appalachian crowd.


CHE APALACHE: (Singing) There's all kinds of talk about building the wall down along the southern border, about building a wall between me and you. Lord, if such nonsense should come true, then we'll have to knock it down.

HAUSMAN: Che Apalache is hoping to open people's ears and minds on a tour of 18 states and the District of Columbia. For NPR News, I'm Sandy Hausman.


CHE APALACHE: (Singing) To love thy neighbor as thyself is a righteous law to live by, but leaders sing a different song. They break us up so they stay strong, and ignorantly we're strung along until we meet our doom. Yes, our leaders are so ripe with sin. They feed us chants to rope us in. Someday soon we'll find, my friends, that we're pinned against the wall. Come friends, come friends. Come gather round for to sing, sing we joyfully. Let us sing about a better world where different paths will soon unfurl, where no man's blood shall stain the soil of a land where...[POST BROADCAST CORRECTION: A previous Web introduction to this story incorrectly said Che Apalache comprises one North American and three Argentines. There are actually two North Americans and two Argentines.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: August 29, 2018 at 10:00 PM MDT
A previous Web introduction to this story incorrectly said Che Apalache comprises one North American and three Argentines. There are actually two North Americans and two Argentines.
Sandy Hausman joined our news team in 2008 after honing her radio skills in Chicago. Since then, she's won several national awards for her reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Radio, Television and Digital News Association and the Public Radio News Directors' Association.