Appalatin: A Happy Accident

By Alexander Campbell

Appalatin is what you might call a gradual, happy accident that's been happening slowly over roughly the last six years.

It was formed originally by two of its present members, with the others coming in one at a time and adding in their own musical talents and abilities.

Appalatin began as a love of music among people who otherwise would not have known each other or ever played together, starting with Latin music and slowly incorporating the music of Kentucky and surrounding Appalachia. The Latin music that Appalatin plays is not what we generally think of as 'Latin music,' but rather the rural folk music of the Andes and Central America, which blends deftly with the regional music of the rural American, eastern mountain chain.

These musicians' musical instruments are very ancient, but the magical thing about them is that there are infinite ways of combining them and creating fresh sounds, all the while trying to capture the same sounds our ancestors listened to -- especially when you combine instruments that have not necessarily been together before. The humble, tiny, peanut-shaped charango of Ecuador; Pan flutes; the mandolin; harmonica; the common guitar; bass; the cowbell, various rattles and shakers; and those most primitive instruments of all drum and vocals.

There is literally no one in the world that is creating the sound that Appalatin is and that is Appalatin; however, the members did not set out intentionally to create this sound: it just happened. So Appalatin, as a result of its hybrid and serendipitous metamorphosis, has shaped up as some sort of a mellifluous 'happy-stance,' if you will.

In preparation for their upcoming second album, slated to be recorded in August, Appalatin just wrapped up a weekly gig at a local club called Zazoo's in the St. Matthews area of Louisville, where they had a different musical guest performing with them each week; varying their own style to match, ranging from hosting Andean guests to Appalachian-sounding ones to folksy singer-songwriters to reggae to even a young group of Somali-Kenyan dancers. The short stint at Zazoo's allowed Appalatin to keep exploring, honing, expanding, and finding their musical voice.

As an example of their particular form of performance-rehearsal (finding out what works and what does not), "Down by the Waterside," a song that will be featured on Appalatin's new CD, started out as a light reggae number, the inspiration of a reggae-influenced member. While this song strays a bit from the group's initial roots, it was amiable-sounding enough, until one day, playing outside this year's Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs out on the street, they started to play "Down by the Waterside" in an Appalachian-sounding way without really trying to and the song just clicked; they suddenly knew they had it right.

So watching Appalatin 'in process' is a bit like watching a butterfly emerge from its cocoon; and it is something that it is excitingly possible to catch them doing, live.

And speaking of suddenly -- Appalatin's success in Louisville has seemed to be overnight. Since releasing their first album in March 2011, they have done everything in Louisville that they set out to do within the next year. However, they had actually been working on establishing the foundations of their presence in Louisville four or five years prior to that. Appalatin is now set to take their music to the next level and toward this end are starting to tour across the rest of Kentucky. Their plans are to take their music nationally and possibly even internationally at some point; but they will do it at their own signature, gradual, happy-accidentally pace. They do not rush their music.

If the energy of their musical development and its dissemination has been tortoise-like by design, the energy of their music in performance is rivetingly in the moment: always fresh and powerfully with-it, no matter how many times they have played it or you have heard it.

Putting these two dichotomous, dynamic rates of together theirs seems a perennial spring.

Appalatin will be approaching the recording of their next CD in the same vein and using their second release to platform into their next level.

I am not sure how or where Appalatin will record this next CD; but I am sure that in it will be captured their musical essence that music-in-the-air, that musical-style-coming-for-the-first-time-ever-to-be, that Appalatin's members eat, drink, sleep, and breathe in their every available waking moment (and likely while they dream). That they will capture it like some rare and ephemeral specimen under glass, where all of us can hear and see.

Those of us within the little bubble that is Louisville, many of whom already know them, can all look forward to the next phase of Appalatin's unfolding evolution not only in terms of their latest music, but also in terms of their just-budding career. Lots more magic, lots more to come in the discovery of the happy, infectious, folk-hybrid vibe that is Appalatin not just for those who are to newly discover them; not just for those who continue along with them for their journey; but also for the members and creators of Appalatin themselves.