Afropop Classic February 15, 2024
Black History Month: The Black History of the Banjo

Consider, for a moment, the banjo – that most quintessentially American of instruments. Yet, like much of what we claim as purely ours, its lineage reveals a complex, interwoven story that spans continents. Its plinking notes descend not from some fabled Appalachian holler, but from the shores of West Africa. These sounds navigated the brutal currents of the transatlantic slave trade, emerging – scarred and transmuted – in the Caribbean and American South. And now, under the deft strokes of Black women artists like Rhiannon Giddens, there's a reclamation underway – a kind of homecoming of these melodies. This reclaiming isn’t just about righting historic wrongs; it’s a reminder that even when disfigured by prejudice, a culture's resilience beats on within its most beloved forms of expression. From clawhammer virtuosos like Bela Fleck to Malian griot descendant Bassekou Kouyate, we'll explore the banjo's cross-continental story – at once heartbreaking and heart-thrilling – and reveal how the very thrum of American music depends on this oft-disavowed Black history.

Produced by Ben Richmond

[APWW #828]

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