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66

Rhiannon Giddens & Francesco Turrisi

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Duration 90 minutes
Music

Synopsis

For the first time at the Festival, singer, composer and multi-instrumentalist Rhiannon Giddens - among the revelation American artists of recent years - brings to Spoleto her "black non-black music," reviving a forgotten history of slavery.

Tracing Gaelic, American, African American, and Native American folk traditions and their influence on European and American music, Giddens pours fire and energy into powerful songs that target discrimination. to comfortable singing "torch songs" in a smoky bar, accompanying himself on banjo or singing the 'opera in a lavish production Giddens mixes country, blues, jazz and gospel exploring the lives of people silenced to from slaves, to victims of the civil rights murders of the 1960s, to teenagers killed by police on inner-city streets.

"I am mixed." - Giddens states - "My father is white, my mother is black. And I constantly learned to go back and forth between one world and another. And that has made me who I am."

Born to Greensboro, North Carolina, in the late 1970s from European-American father and African-American mother-married only three years after the historic Loving v. Virginia ruling that allowed interracial marriages due to the abolition of anti-miscegenation laws-Giddens, after her studies in opera singing, attended Irish music and learned the fiddle from old African-American masters.

With her on the stage at Piazza Duomo is Francesco Turrisi, an Italian-born multi-instrumentalist who is also her life partner. Like Giddens, Turrisi comes from disparate experiences and is the perfect wingman, between assorted tambourines of various origins, piano and accordion, which he plays with very original touch.

Winners at the 2022 Grammys in the Best Folk Album category, the two artists perform to Spoleto a selection from their albums There is No Other and They're Calling Me Home, in a celebration of shared experiences.

Credits

Program

Hall Program

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Meeting and making music

Text by Jacopo Tomatis

Few stories are as American-for better or worse-as that of the banjo. Derived from various lutes widespread in northwest Africa, the banjo landed in the New World along with slaves. As early as the last quarter of the seventeenth century we have traces of a rather similar instrument in Martinique, called the banza. At the end of the next century we find it in a watercolor, played from a black slave dressed in the manner of European settlers, on a South Carolina plantation.

Fast forward to the nineteenth century and the success of the minstrel show, a genre of popular entertainment that is about as problematically "American" as one can get, in terms of how it tells the story of (symbolic, in this case) violence between Afro-descendants and Europeans: the prelude to to a long affair of exchange, theft, overpowering and reappropriation that characterizes much of later U.S. music. The songs that appear in it, and which in many cases became standards (e.g., "Oh Susannah," or "Camptown Races") are written from white composers as a parody of the music of black slaves, performed in blackface from white performers who of blacks make fun of the blacks' speech and performance style... and to complicate the picture even more, the success of the genre is such that soon black musicians, often to themselves in blackface, also take to it... At the center, as the main instrument, is of course the banjo.

Which, meanwhile, is emerging as a favorite instrument of rural black and white populations, especially in the South. Its fortunes in this area tell, again, of the relationships between the slave community and that of Americans of European descent (who "in return" offer the fiddle, destined to to enter permanently as much in minstrel as in bluegrass string bands).

to this point the trajectories of the "black" and "white" banjo begin to to diverge more and more. It has to do with the Great Migration, when 6 million African Americans leave the segregated South to move to the cities, eventually adopting the guitar, which to will soon be electrified, at the center of equally electrifying new music. It has something to do with folklorists, who record white banjoists while leaving black banjoists off the tape: the story of Cecil Sharp and Maud Karpeles, for example, who beat the Appalachian area in the Great War years by documenting tracks the old British ballads, tells of how a rural and isolated area, inhabited from black and white, ended up representing in the popular imagination the heart of the "real" white America. And there is, of course, the new media, above all radio and record, which specialize repertoires and also target their audiences on the basis of skin color. from on the one hand, race records resell "their" music, blues and jazz (where in the early years the banjo plays a central role as a rhythmic instrument: by this route it will arrive in Europe, establishing itself in Italy as well) to blacks. On the other, the same record labels also invent what is called hillbilly, which will later become country & western. That is, the music of the rednecks, of the white American working class, whose sonic icon becomes - lo and behold - precisely the banjo. In fact, if before reading these lines you searched your mind for an image of a banjo, you probably visualized a white man in dungarees with a from cowboy hat (even Google images reinforces the stereotype: try to believe!).

Nothing could be further - of course - from Rhiannon Giddens. But at the end of the day, if I have dwelled on the history of the banjo as emblematic of those relationships of (not always equitable) exchange and (not always peaceful) separation that lie at the roots of American music and culture, it is because her biographical and artistic story seems in some way to be mirrored in it. And not only because she herself, in a beautiful keynote lecture for an International Bluegrass Music Association conference in 2017, described herself as a die-hard banjo nerd and activist ("die-hard banjo nerd and activist"; to by the way: the model she usually performs with is a minstrel banjo, fretless).

Born in the late 1970s to Greensboro, North Carolina, in the Piedmont region (the long plateau bordering the Appalachians), Giddens is the child of a mixed-race union. On her mother's side she inherited African American and Native American ancestry. Her father's family, on the other hand, is white, and was active in the local old-time music scene. She recounted it herself, "my father escaped bluegrass and moved to the teeming metropolis of Greensboro to become a hippie guitarist," only to "see his only daughter end up playing the banjo."

In the mid-1990s, Giddens-who also plays fiddle very well in the bluegrass style-founded the Carolina Chocolate Drops, the first all-African American string band from to to perform on stage at the iconic Grand Ole Opry, the temple of country music. "I have always felt the discomfort of being the raisin in the oatmeal," Giddens explained in the above lecture. And yet, his work and research is also an attempt to "go beyond the narratives we have inherited," to finally acknowledge the nature of bluegrass as Creole music. A music born out of the meeting of different cultures, and therefore fully "American"-for better or worse.

This rewriting of American traditions from a different perspective - racial, insofar as it makes sense to use that concept today, but also gender - is a constant in Giddens' work even in her later work, which takes her far beyond the boundaries of bluegrass. For example in the splendid project Songs of Our Native Daughters, developed for Smithsonian Folkways with three African American musicians (all also banjoists) of varying ancestry: Amythyst Kiah from Tennessee, Haitian-American Leyla McCalla and Canadian Allison Russell.

And yet, if one limits Giddens' journey to the "postcolonial" reinterpretation of American folk, one risks trivializing his musical research. In her training, Irish music and opera singing (which she studied in college), folk and Eurocultivated music coexist from immediately. Over the years she has found herself to duetting as much with Yo-Yo Ma as with Ben Harper, to singing as much Monteverdi and Purcell as Southern Italian lullabies. On her album They're Calling Me Home (Grammy 2022 in the Best Folk Album category) she tries her hand at "Si dolce è 'l tormento" and "Nenna nenna" without a problem, while live (I speak from direct testimony) you can also happen to hear her interpret Mina...

from several years now Giddens-who now lives in Ireland-collaborates with Francesco Turrisi, his constant companion on stage and in life, to whom he probably owes his most recent "Italian" openings. Turrisi is in fact born in Turin, studied jazz piano at The Hague Conservatory, and has been involved in Afro-American music but also in Mediterranean sounds as a percussionist and accordionist, or ancient music with L'Arpeggiata...

In short, another fascinating story that we don't have time to tell - but which is, after all, the same story as Rhiannon Giddens (or the banjo, at least to wanting to draw the positive notes from it): that of how people from various parts of the world meet, listen to each other, and to sometimes end up making music together. If there is an important message from to be drawn from it, after all, it is just that.

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Dates & Tickets

Tickets from 20 € to 50 €
TICKETING INFO
Thu
06
Jul
2023
at
21:30
Piazza Duomo
at
Piazza Duomo
at
Piazza Duomo
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Piazza Duomo
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Piazza Duomo
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Piazza Duomo
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Piazza Duomo
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Piazza Duomo
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Piazza Duomo
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Piazza Duomo
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Piazza Duomo
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Piazza Duomo
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Piazza Duomo
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Piazza Duomo
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Piazza Duomo
Event Times
June 28
11:00
12:00
13:00
14:15
15:15
16:30
17:30
18:30
19:45
20:45
June 29
11:00
12:00
13:00
14:15
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17:30
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19:45
20:45
June 30
11:00
12:00
13:00
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18:30
19:45
01 July
10:00
11:00
12:00
13:15
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17:45
20:30
21:30
02 July
10:00
11:00
12:00
13:15
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21:45
04 July
11:00
12:00
13:00
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19:45
20:45
05 July
11:00
12:00
13:00
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20:45
06 July
11:00
12:00
13:00
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19:45
20:45
07 July
11:00
12:00
13:00
14:15
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19:45
20:45
08 July
10:00
11:00
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21:45
09 July
10:00
11:00
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14:15
17:30
18:30
19:45
20:45
21:45

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Biographies

Rhiannon Giddens

A MacArthur "Genius Grant" winner, Rhiannon Giddens is co-founder of the Grammy Award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops. Over the course of her career, she is nominated for six other Grammys including one for her collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi in 2019 for There is No Other. The album They're Calling Me Home, an album of twelve tracks recorded with Turrisi in Ireland during the lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, is about nostalgia and loss. Among her many career accomplishments, Giddens has performed for the Obamas at the White House, was curator of Perspectives at Carnegie Hall, and received the Legacy of Americana Award from the National Museum of African American History in Nashville in collaboration with the Americana Music Association. CBS Sunday Morning, The New York Times, The New Yorker and NPR's Fresh Air, among many others, have written about her. In 2019, Giddens is featured in Ken Burns' Country Music series, airing on PBS, where she discusses the African American origins of country music. She is also a member of the band Our Native Daughters with three other black banjo players, Leyla McCalla, Allison Russell, and Amythyst Kiah, and co-produced their debut album Songs of Our Native Daughters (2019), which is about survival and black women who made history. Appointed artistic director of Silkroad in 2020, Giddens has developed a number of new programs for the organization, including one inspired by the history of the American transcontinental railroad with a nod to the musical traditions and diverse cultures of its builders. In 2019, she is writing the music for the ballet Lucy Negro Redux, for the Nashville Ballet, and the libretto and music foropera Omar, based on the autobiography of enslaved man Omar Ibn Said for the Spoleto Festival USA, in 2022. As an actress, Giddens had a leading role in the television series Nashville.

Francesco Turrisi

A Grammy Award-winning multi-instrumentalist, he has been called a "musical alchemist" and a "musical polyglot" by the press. Francesco Turrisi left Italy in 1997 to study jazz piano and early music at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague, where he earned a bachelor's and master's degree. Since 2004 he has been working successfully as a freelance musician. He was a member of the renowned early music ensemble L'Arpeggiata, performing at major classical music festivals in Europe and around the world, and has recorded for Warner, Virgin, Naive and Alpha. Turrisi has released five critically acclaimed albums as leader and two as co-leader: Tarab, an innovative ensemble that fuses traditional Irish and Mediterranean music, and Zahr, a project that investigates the connections between traditional Southern Italian music and Arabic music. His latest solo piano album, Northern Migrations, has been described as "delicate, melancholy and completely engaging" by the Irish Times. In 2018 Turrisi began to collaborating with Grammy Award-winning American singer and multi-instrumentalist Rhiannon Giddens. Together the duo has released two critically acclaimed albums: the 2019 debut project, There is No Other, and the latest They're Calling Me Home, which won the 2022 Grammy for Best Folk Album.

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