MUSIC NOTES: Songs of Our Native Daughters

Songs of Our Native Daughters

“An artist’s duty is to reflect the times”. So said the celebrated African-American singer, pianist, and freedom fighter Nina Simone. Today, Our Native Daughters, a quartet of distinguished and versatile women musicians (who must certainly be considered Simone’s progeny) are doing just that, reflecting our times, even as they delve deeply into the past. Our Native Daughters is a folk and roots music “supergroup” founded by singer, fiddler, banjoist, and folklorist Rhiannon Giddens. Featuring the talents of Giddens, cellist-singer Leyla McCalla, multi-instrumentalist Allison Russell, and singer-songwriter Amythyst Kiah, the quartet tells stories of the oppression of African-American women, as well as their resistance and their hopes. It is no coincidence that all four are adept banjo players. The African-American history of the banjo, an instrument that has long been a symbol of white Appalachian bluegrass and country music, is only now being acknowledged and reclaimed, thanks to the efforts of artists like Giddens and her band-mates. The group’s first album, Songs of Our Native Daughters, released earlier this year by Smithsonian Folkways Records, is a stunning collaborative achievement. Inspired by 17th, 18th, and 19th century sources, including slave narratives, and early minstrelsy, Giddens, McCalla, Kiah, and Russell reinterpret and create new works from old ones. In doing so they confront sanitized views of the history of slavery, racism, and misogyny in America from a black female perspective. This is deep music of struggle, protest, and uplift. Click here for more information, including a link to a video about the making of the album and a free copy of an important 36-page booklet that accompanies the album.

Topic’s 80th birthday fête continues

Topic, the oldest independent record company in the world, was founded in 1939 by the Workers Music Association under the auspices of the Communist Party of Great Britain. It had its first release that year with Paddy Ryan’s “The Man That Waters the Workers’ Beer”. While Topic’s fortunes have waxed and waned over the years, it has done more than any other record company – in the UK at least – to make good on its original pledge “to use popular music to educate and inform and improve the lot of working people”.  Luminaries, past and present, who recorded for Topic include Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger, June Tabor, A.L. Lloyd, Martin Carthy, The Watersons, Shirley Collins, Dick Gaughan, and more recently, Eliza Carthy, one of the central figures in contemporary U.K. folk music. On May 31, Topic released “Vision and Revision: The First 80  Years of Topic Records”, a double CD and vinyl that features eminent contemporary folk artists, each interpreting a song of their own choice from Topic’s back catalogue. The anniversary celebration continued with a gala concert on June 17 at London’s Barbican Centre.  There, in addition to the likes of the Watersons and Carthys, younger artists Sam Lee and Olivia Chaney gave convincing performances (Lee with “The Deserter” and Chaney with “Polly Vaughan”) that suggested the label’s future is in good hands. Their recordings of these songs can be heard on “Vision and Revision”. Folk music enthusiasts who may be visiting London this year will have an opportunity to view another part of the Topic anniversary celebrations. “Folk in Focus”, at Cecil Sharp House, is an exhibition of iconic photographs from the label’s archives. It continues until January 5, 2020.  For more info:

Ian Tamblyn joins Roots Music Canada

The multi-talented folk musician Ian Tamblyn has been publishing some engaging and  informative commentary of late at the online magazine Roots Music Canada. Tamblyn, 71, is a singer-songwriter, film music composer, record producer, educator, and playwright. During his 50-year career he’s composed 1500 songs and recorded 30 albums. He’s won a Juno award, and a Canadian Folk Music award. As well as being a fine singer, he’s accomplished on guitar, hammered dulcimer, and piano. Tamblyn is also a lover of nature. Much of his experience as a self-described “adventurer” has to do with his travels, especially to Canada’s far north, an experience that has deeply informed his music. Ian Tamblyn has been writing since January on a regular basis for Roots Music Canada, a website dedicated to news, reviews, features, and opinion pieces about Canadian folk, blues, roots, and world music. Tamblyn expresses himself eloquently on a variety of themes, including: songwriting and composing; community versus commodity; why so many musicians can’t make a living from their craft; and the dangers of unlimited access to digital music. What really caught my attention (being a geezer myself) was a recent essay called “Changing sonics, tribalism, and geezerhood: a conversation with myself”. Tamblyn’s essays are frequently illuminating and fun to read for anyone interested in music. Check him out at Roots Music Canada and learn how you can be a supporter of this valuable Canadian music resource.

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