Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell - songs of our native daughters
Songs of Our Native Daughters gathers together kindred musicians Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell in song and sisterhood to communicate with their forebears. Drawing on and reclaiming early minstrelsy and banjo music, these musicians reclaim, recast, and spotlight the often unheard and untold history of their ancestors, whose stories remain vital and alive today. The material on Songs of Our Native Daughters - written and sung in various combinations - is inspired by New World slave narratives, discrimination and how it has shaped our American experience, as well as musicians such as Haitian troubadour Althiery Dorval and Mississippi Hill Country string player Sid Hemphill, and more.
AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger:
The Smithsonian Folkways-issued debut album from Carolina Chocolate Drops frontwoman Rhiannon Giddens, former Carolina Chocolate Drops cellist Leyla McCalla, multi-instrumentalist Allison Russell (Po' Girl, Birds of Chicago), and alt-country/blues singer/songwriter Amythyst Kiah, Songs of Our Native Daughters is a bold, brutal, and often beautiful dissertation on racism, hope, misogyny, agency, and slavery told from the perspective of four of modern roots music's most talented women, who also happen to be black.
That all four artists are adept banjo players is no fluke, as that distinctly American instrument has been at the forefront of the country's musical evolution since the 1800s, though almost always via the hands of a white male. Looking to the past for inspiration, from Creole culture and minstrelsy to the abolitionist and suffrage movements, the quartet have constructed a set of songs that are grounded in centuries of suffering, yet resolute in their humanity. Steely and soulful opener "Black Myself," led by Kiah, is built off a line from Sid Hemphill's Alan Lomax recording of "John Henry" ("I don't like no red-black woman/black myself, black myself"). That mythic steel driver is invoked by Kiah again on the galloping bluegrass romp "Polly Ann's Hammer," which sees John's wife, who was every bit his equal when it came to swinging a maul, getting to tell her side of the story.
Giddens turns an old minstrel instrumental song on its head with "Better Git Yer Learnin'," which eschews the lewdness and derogatory imagery of the style for an honest post-emancipation primer ("the white folks they will write the show/if you can't read you'll never know"). Most potent of all is Giddens' "Barbados," a wordless lament book ended by a pair of poems: the first, an anti-slavery piece by English poet William Cowper, and the second, a response by co-producer and frequent Giddens collaborator Dirk Powell that shows how little has changed.
As harrowing as the material can be, it's the music that carries the weight. Echoes of mbaqanga and highlife find their way into "Moon Meets Sun" and "Music and Joy," both of which find solace in the simple pleasures of song and dance, and Russell's robust, gospel-tinged "You're Not Alone" uses motherhood as a metaphor for resilience, resistance, and acceptance, bringing to a close this powerful, personal, and much-needed retelling of American history.
|Brand||Smithsonian Folkways Recordings|
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