LatinGrass Comes to Philo-Hill Magnet Academy
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By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
SEPTEMBER 5, 2019 – Before the morning was done, seventh-graders at Philo-Hill had traveled from Argentina to the Appalachian Mountains and on to Japan before returning to Winston-Salem.
“It was amazing,” said seventh-grader Michael Tyson after listening to Che Apalache, an international band with roots both in Argentina and in Winston-Salem.
The band is here to play in Fiesta 2019, which is sponsored the Hispanic League. And, thanks to the Hispanic League and The Winston-Salem Foundation, the four members of the band came to Philo-Hill Magnet Academy on Thursday, Sept. 5, to play for and visit with students.
Before the day was done, Che Apalache would play for and talk with all the students. They started their visit with the seventh-graders.
Che Apalache was founded by Joe Troop, who graduated from Reynolds High School in 2001. For here, life took him to many places, including Argentina, where he became friends with musicians Martin Bobrick, Paul Barjau and Franco Martino. Both Bobrick and Martino grew up in Argentina and Barjau moved there after starting life in Mexico.
As they explored music together, they came to play Latin music – and other types of music – using bluegrass instruments – fiddle (Troop), guitar (Martino), banjo (Barjau) and mandolin (Bobrick).
The band refers to what they play as Latingrass.
“We just invented a word for it, Bobrick said.
“We mix a lot of stuff,” Troop said. “We’re exploring different genres of music.”
The name of the band reflects that creative approach. One way to translate Che Apalache, Troop said, would be “Appalachian homies,” with “homies” being a slang term for “homeboy” that can be traced to Mexican-American Spanglish from the late 19th century.
Principal Benika Thompson said she was delighted to have the band at Philo-Hill.
She hoped the experience would help students see that there are many different ways to express yourself, that the students at Philo-Hill are valued, and that life offers many possibilities.
“You can go big places,” Thompson said.
Kendall Hartsook, who teaches health and physical education at Philo-Hill, said she welcomed the opportunity for the students to hear such a group and hoped the experience would inspire students interested in pursuing music.
That is already the case for Michael. He plays piano. Other family members play the bass and drums, and he plans to learn how to play bass and drums as well in the future. His list of possible careers includes becoming a professional musician, and, after the session with the seventh-graders ended, he talked a bit with Troop.
During the performance, Michael sat with Jaiyana Barnes and Yazmin Anacleto-Scott.
After leaving Winston-Salem, one of Troop’s stops along the way was Japan, where he taught English as a second language. He picked up some Japanese, and, when band members asked students whether they could identify the language used in one of their songs, Jaiyana readily identified it as Japanese.
Asked later how she knew that, Jaiyana said she had picked up some of the language watching Japanese anime.
Jaiyana and Yazmin also really enjoyed the music.
“I think it was really cool and beautiful,” Yazmin said. “I learned a lot about the instruments and how the music plays.”
Before the seventh-graders came into the auditorium, Troop talked a bit about how much he appreciated the experiences he had at Reynolds High and the teachers he worked with.
“The whole arts program at Reynolds was really, really good,” he said.
Terry Hicks, who taught music at Reynolds, was one of the teachers who meant a lot to him.
“Terry was one of my favorite teachers,” Troop said.
Since Che Apalache was established three years ago, it has played in the area a number of times. As she was setting up The Winston-Salem Foundation’s banner, Daisy Rodgriuez, who is the foundation’s Director of Student Aid, said she had heard them before and was looking forward to hearing them again.
Philo-Hill has a diverse student body that includes many students of Hispanic backgrounds, and Mari Jo Turner, who is the Executive Director of the Hispanic League, said she hoped the experience opened everyone’s eyes to the many opportunities and experiences that life can bring.
Jill Martin-Byers, who was serving as the tour manager, said she hoped students got “a sense of how lots of different cultural and musical genres can collide in beautiful ways.”
And, indeed, students did get to experience just that.
When the band began playing, they started out playing songs from Argentina. From there, they headed to Mexico and the Appalachian Mountains before zipping over the Japan and back with a stop in Africa. Sometimes, the language was Spanish. Other times, it was English. And, once, it was Japanese. Along the way, band members would stop and talk about the songs and the instruments they were playing and ask students about some of their experiences.
“They are amazing!” Rodriguez said when they were done.
Fiesta 2019 begins Sept. 14. To find out more, go to Hispanic League.