Rhiannon Giddens is a singer and multi-instrumentalist best known for her unparalleled mastery of the banjo. According to Rhiannon, in America, "in the first 100 years of its existence, the banjo was known as a plantation instrument, as a black instrument."
Hence, no wonder why her new album, "Freedom Highway", in which Rhiannon Giddens recounts, in deep, soul moving songs about slaves', or as she says, enslaved peoples' experiences and the recent police shootings of young black men, draws from the banjo.
She was also the frontwoman of African-American string band the Carolina Chocolate Drops, whose 2010 album, Genuine Negro Jig, won a Grammy Award.
Freedom Highway is her second solo album to draw from the roots of African American and African tradition and, at the same time, likely to inspire generations. It is an American story-telling through the music and, perhaps, as importantly , through the lenses of African American experience.
Rhiannon Giddens notes that the modern banjo draws from the African instrument known as the akonting, made from a gourd. She to the Gambia, in Africa, to study and master the akonting, and then perfected her banjo skills.
She recently told NPR Terry Gross of Fresh Air how the banjo, that originated from African and reached American through slavery has fused into the American fabric. She said: "whenever I play it, "people are like, "What is that?" I'm like, "This is America, dude." This instrument right here, born in Africa, but then made in America and then altered by white America, that's the story of so much of our music. And it starts here — it's the first thing that people heard.his instrument right here, born in Africa, but then made in America and then altered by white America, that's the story of so much of our music. And it starts here — it's the first thing that people heard."
Listen to the moving song "Julie" from Rhiannon Giddens' Freedom Highway album about the story of a slave owner asking the slave she about to lose, to lie for her, during the American Civil War. Powerful.