Genre-blending band explores Native Alaskan culture

Che Apalache combine Latin and bluegrass influences

From left: banjoist Pau Barjau, guitarist Franco Martino, fiddler Joe Troop and mandolinist Martin Bobrik. Photo courtesy Che Apalache
From left: banjoist Pau Barjau, guitarist Franco Martino, fiddler Joe Troop and mandolinist Martin Bobrik. Photo courtesy Che Apalache

For four-piece string band Che Apalache, touring isn’t just about performing – it’s field research.

The group are best known for their unique fusion of Latin and bluegrass, although they’ve also dabbled in everything from Gypsy swing to Japanese folk music.

Frontman Joe Troop hopes to learn new tricks of the trade anytime he visits somewhere new, he said.

“Traveling and meeting people and taking in the beauty of the natural world is what fuels my creative process,” Troop said. “It’s always nice to get somewhere and let things unfurl and unpack – but, then, packing up again and scrambling to the airport is exhausting. But when it’s part of your life, you just do it. It’s way less daunting than hunting seal in a kayak.”

“The Coming of Spring,” Troop’s foray into Japanese folk music, was informed by his two years in Shimoguri, a village of 600 located at the top of a mountain on Honshu, Japan’s central island. The track appears on 2019’s “Rearrange My Heart,” an album produced by banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck.

Troop, who has not visited Alaska previously, said that he’s looking forward to seeing Cordova’s straight-as-an-arrow main drag and tasting seal meat, in Kodiak, for the first time, and hopes to find someone who will take him hiking.

From left: Joe Troop, Pau Barjau and Franco Martino perform at the North Star Theatre. (Sept. 25, 2019) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

“I’m looking forward to enjoying the peace and quiet, and making a little noise while we’re there,” Troop said.

Native Alaskan culture and instrumentation have also drawn Troop’s interest.

“I’ve spent a lot of years in Latin America, where native peoples have, in many cases, fared better than they have in the Lower 48,” Troop said. “Alaska’s a bit of an anomaly, because they’re organized up here … I’d like to learn more from them, to hear their stories.”

Che Apalache anticipate another six months of touring, after which they’ll return to the studio to start work on their next album, planned for release in 2020. Performances like the one scheduled for Sept. 24 at the Cordova Center will, Troop hopes, give listeners a chance to experience the many different musical traditions they’ve encountered on their travels.

“You can anticipate, hopefully, a mystical experience,” Troop said. “We just want to take people on a magical unicorn ride through their imaginations, using all the beautiful music traditions from all over the world that we’ve encountered and we’ve let influence us.”