Guest Blog: Rising Appalachia

Rising Appalachia
Photo courtesy of Come to Life

Rising Appalachia have merged multiple global music influences with their own southern roots to create the inviting new folk album, Leylines, which drops May 3. Remarkably the band built its legion of listeners independently—a self-made success story that has led to major festival appearances and sold-out shows at venues across the country. Rising Appalachia is composed of co-founders and sisters Leah Smith (vocals, banjo, bodhran) and Chloe Smith (guitar, fiddle, banjo) as well as David Brown (stand-up bass, baritone guitar), Biko Casini (world percussion, n’goni), Arouna Diarra (n’goni, talking drum), and Duncan Wickel (fiddle, cello).

We wander for our living, traverse across borders, cross cultures, collect stories, carry awkward instruments to far corners of the globe. Never far enough to not find the language universal. Song, dance, drink, mourn, laugh, play, sleep, eat, die. All the things music unites us over. The basics of living.

This winter when invited to spend four weeks touring across South America learning about the culture and traditions of Argentina, Uruguay, and Peru, we gladly accepted the offer. Fueled by our deep love of Yerba Mate and the culture that surrounds it, we began a sojourn to learn about the music traditions, the culture of the gourd, and of course the complimentary culture of a day in the life of South America. (Yerba mate is a lightly caffeinated plant that grows across this region and is enjoyed almost religiously by Argetines, Uruguayans, and Paraguayans on an almost hourly basis. It is drunk in a simple hand held gourd with a metal straw called a bombilla, and is used as a talking piece, and boost of energy, and a simple way to share conversations throughout the day.)

We landed first in Patagonia to play a festival in a labyrinth built out of natural trees and bushes cultivated for over 20 years to hold the space of deep beauty and absolute landscape mastery. We were scooped up by the producer of the festival in his small van and driven across the land of wide open spaces and brilliant vistas. The show was spectacular, but the community was much more the pulse of this place, deep in the wilderness of Patagonia, surrounded by wild lakes and even wilder people. Our entry to South America was established.  

Our second stop was nothing short of life changing, as we spent a few days living on the land at a small rural community called La Amba. The community is home to stewards of some of the last old-growth forest in all of Uruguay and comprises a small intentional community of people working hard to protect the watersheds, re-wild the land, and return to the native forestry of Uruguay. There is no-one else in their entire country doing the work that they are doing: restoring an entire watershed to its native wilderness, seeing incredible progress in the returning of the local flora and fauna. But equally beautiful to their work in restoration and reclamation of land is their work in reclamation of culture. There we learned the old ways of the yerba mate, the ways that the plant was cultivated and beholden by the people living and working with it. We participated in a ceremony around a fire of elders, and saw the plant in its embryo form, as well as its full grown tree form. We shared our songs of our mountains as a humble offering to the wild spaces that invited us.

– By Leah and Chloe Song