Rupa Marya's passion and purpose on this earth is to learn from humanity and advocate for humanism. This is reflected in her music, her work as physician and teacher at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center where she is professor of Internal Medicine, as well as her role as social activator--empowering herself and those around her to recognize and respond to inequality and harm with critical thought, courage, compassion and intelligence. The daughter of Punjabi immigrants, she was raised between the San Francisco Bay Area, France and India, learning at an early age that the sound of the streets was where her heart found its home--not only in its inherent musicality, but in the force of music as a public mode of transmission, inspiration, bridge-building and engagement beyond commercial enterprise.
Her main musical projects include being the voice, composer and musical director for Rupa & the April Fishes, a project that seeks to celebrate beauty in pluralism and reinvigorate appreciation for living music played on wooden, brassy and reedy things, as well as a chamber project, with tiny instrumental songs for tiny moments, arranged for piano, cello, viola and field recordings. She has recently worked on string arrangements of some of her songs with Tin Hat Trio's composer Mark Orton and will be releasing a collection of these chamber music pieces together with a handmade book. The daughter of a concert pianist whose musical dreams were waylaid by an arranged marriage and four hungry children, Rupa's upbringing included classical training in voice and piano, as well as early exposure to sounds from around the world. She started writing music at the University of California, San Diego, where she was studying Biochemistry and Post-War Political Theater and learned the ropes of the road with folk artist Kate Isenberg. After 2001, noting the increasing xenophobia and intolerance around the West and the surprising self-segregation in her own San Francisco, Rupa started writing music drawing from a wide variety of roots sources to attempt to craft a mestizo sound that would embody a more complex, post-national identity and invite more people to get together in the same space.
Her work has been celebrated at home with a Mastermind Grant in 2006. In 2009, she received a major award from the San Francisco Arts Commission for the project ¡Catapulta!, a multi-disciplinary performance documenting the struggles and celebrating the courage of those making global migrations in search of work, which Rupa directed, composed for and performed. This effort was coordinated with local outreach by PODER (People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights) and UCSF to undocumented people in San Francisco's Mission District, in order to inform them where they could access free or low cost health care, without fear of being deported. In 2010, Rupa did an artist residency at the art space EDELO in Chiapas, Mexico where she collaborated with local musicians, activists and artists, as well as indigenous Tzotzil children to further examine the importance of making invisible ones seen and heard.
In 2011, Rupa will be taking a leave from her hospital duties in order to further deepen her music as well as research the creation of a course where young doctors and nurses can learn together to use the clinical encounter to identify and respond to social situations that are predisposing people to poor health conditions. She will continue her clinical work at San Francisco's free clinic for undocumented peoples, tour with the April Fishes as well as initiate a long-term nomadic project with muralist Mona Caron involving public visual art with sound compositions highlighting the struggles of invisible peoples around the world.