Despite its off-the-beaten-track location, extraordinarily talented artists and musicians have graced the North Columbia Schoolhouse since it first became a cultural center during the early 1980s. In a rare West Coast appearance, Brooklyn-based cellist Rufus Cappadocia promises to continue this tradition in an intimate solo performance Saturday.
Cappadocia has been blazing his own trail on this classical instrument. He plays a modified cello with an additional fifth string and electric pick-ups. Cappadocia has performed worldwide but will be making his first appearance in Nevada County.
“When I approached Mr. Cappadocia about performing here, I shared with him our community’s history of the arts and how we like to go against the grain a bit,” said Jeff Adams, North Columbia Schoolhouse Cultural Center executive director. “He replied that we ‘sounded like his kind of people’ and that he would take the chance on coming out to the schoolhouse.”
Cappadocia said he is especially excited to be performing the night before the full moon — “the best time to play.”
With a last name in common with the Turkish region that was once the home of Rumi, Cappadocia incorporates inspiration from the 13th century poet as well as contemporary Ghazal vocalist Vishal Vaid, musical polymath Ross Daly, master Haitian drummer “Bonga” Jean-Baptiste with the Voodoo Drums of Haiti, and Celtic pioneer Seamus Eagan. His music also fuses Spanish flamenco, Balkan, and Sufi folk forms with elements of American roots, blues, rock and jazz.
“I’ve studied a lot of different musical vocabularies,” Cappadocia said. “And I’ve played with musicians literally from around the world. But in the end, music all comes down to a single source. You can be pulled this way or that, but essentially, it all converges on the same location. Every doorway leads back to one place.”
Adding with a laugh, “I guess you could say my whole life has been an attempt at getting to that place.”
A native of Canada, Cappadocia picked up his first cello at the age of 3 but early on resisted the traditional path of a prodigy.
“I’ve always had a problematic relationship with my instrument,” he said. “It’s been the essential means of expression for me, but the standard career paths it can lead you down leave a lot to be desired.”
Cappadocia realized early on that the strictures of classical music couldn’t come close to capturing the soaring sounds he heard in his head.
“The first time I ever heard a walking bass line, something stirred deep inside me. When I heard B.B. King’s ‘The Thrill Is Gone’ for the first time, I actually wept. It was like suddenly discovering that I hadn’t been alone all that time,” he said.
While Cappadocia moved to Montreal in 1985 to continue his classical training at McGill University, he was drawn to the city’s jazz, rock and blues musicians. Playing with the Hendrix-inspired guitarist Jimmy James, Cappadocia got the idea to modify his cello by adding an additional string — a low “F” — and an array of cello, guitar and bass pickups.
“What distinguishes my instrument from all the other electric cellos out there is that it’s ‘passive,’” Cappadocia explained. “It has no active circuitry, all the signals are balanced naturally, which gives you the full spectrum of overtones that signal processing tends to take away.”
Leaving school, Cappadocia relocated to Europe, where his busking landed him in Southern France and, eventually, Spain, where he was first exposed to the mix of Romish and Arabic influences that reached their climax in Flamenco.
“I used it all,” he says. “The slapping techniques on the guitar, the way the dance steps carried the rhythms. It was all part of a search for something, even if I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for.”
That search would subsequently lead him to New York, where he set up a more-or-less permanent base, intent, in his words, “on playing with as many different musicians as I could. If my travels had taught me anything, it was the value of playing with other artists.”
With this list including such marquee names as Aretha Franklin, Odetta, Cheick Tidiane Seck and Vernon Reid (former guitarist of Living Color), his reputation as a world-class artist with a world-spanning musical reach makes sense.
Like that list, it is a reputation that continues to grow as the cellist forges new alliances in the most unlikely musical domains.
“I’m really excited to be performing at the North Columbia Schoolhouse,” said Cappadocia. “Playing for an intimate audience in a community-based concert is the kind of setting I live for. It is what links us with the timeless aspect of being human on this planet earth. It is what humanity has been doing in one form or another for thousands of years.”