Leyla McCalla and Rhiannon Giddens promote African-American women in traditionalist music 

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Less than two months after Leyla McCalla released her solo album, Capitalist Blues, she has joined with her former Carolina Chocolate Drops bandmate, Rhiannon Giddens, in a foursome promoting the role of African-American women in traditionalist music. Our Native Daughters brings Giddens and McCalla together with Amythyst Kiah and Allison Russell, who have just released Songs of Our Native Daughters on Smithsonian/Folkways. The album melds traditionalist spiritual and bluegrass tunes with modernist lyrics exploring sexism and racism.

It would be remarkable enough to hear four women on banjo (with occasional fiddle and guitar) reinventing forgotten songs such as “Better Git Yer Learnin” and “Mama’s Cryin’ Long.” But the radical quartet offers more than reinventions of the 19th century. Giddens starts a spoken-word rant in “Barbados” on the sugar trade and slavery, only to bring it up to date with the search for “blood minerals” in the Congo to power our smartphones and tablets. Kiah’s “Black Myself” melds bluegrass, R&B and rock in a powerful testimony on bigotry and shame. The world may be unprepared to see a banjo as a tool of liberation, but these four women have created the year’s most powerful manifesto of independence.


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