FANS of Rhiannon Giddens will need no introduction to the Grammy award winning, world renowned blues/bluegrass musician and cultural historian. For the rest of you, hear her jaw dropping vocals on She’s Got You (Patsy Cline) Live at the Grand Ole Opry 2017, watch her lead the band on ‘Louisiana Man’ on Austin City Limits and witness her heartbreaking performance of ‘At The Purchaser’s Option’ at Augusta Vocal Week, (all available on YouTube).
From her time with bluegrass band Carolina Chocolate Drops, through to two critically acclaimed and award winning solo albums, Rhiannon Giddens has explored the roots music of black America and joined the dots between blues, gospel and country and bluegrass and the, often overlooked, history of black culture in the US.
Rhiannon Giddens was born in Greensboro, North Carolina to a European/American, white father and a mother who has Native American and African American ancestry.
Her musical experiences are wide and varied from studying opera to finding long forgotten folk songs sung by the early African Americans in the fields of the southern states.
‘Songs of Our Native Daughters’ is a recent collaborative release on record that brings together four black female musicians to tell forgotten stories of the African diaspora in North America. The recordings were made in January 2018 with her regular producer Dirk Powell and fellow roots musicians Allison Russell, Amythyst Kiah and the Haitian-American Leyla McCalla.
Rhiannon moved to Ireland 12 years ago and married musician Michael Laffan, though now separated both remain in Limerick raising their kids Aoife and Caoimhín. Today Rhiannon is based in Castletroy and has worked at The World Academy of Music and Dance at UL and is impressed with the thriving arts scene growing in the city.
“What I’m really into now is digging into the connections between Irish music and black people in the United States,” Riannon explained this week.
“There is a lot of cultural connections that haven’t really been talked about a whole lot. With my own special relationship with Irish culture it is very interesting for me.
“That is definitely leading me down a path to further study.
“When the Irish first got to America they were living with African Americans. We are more alike than we are different. We have so many things in common and music is one of those things that really finds all these commonalities.
“It is the focus of what we do. I’m always interested in those points of connection.”
Most of Rhiannon’s projects and tours are based in the US, performing with Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and composing music with Italian partner Francesco Turrisi for a ballet based out of Nashville called Lucy Negro Redux.
“Francesco’s particular talents perfectly dovetailed into mine and into the project.so I invited him on board.”
With the US so divided politically today, is it surprising or disappointing that Rhiannon’s audience when touring stateside remains predominantly white. It surely does not help that music in the states is divided into RnB and Country charts .
“It is not a terrible surprise.
“I’m trying the change the narrative of what American music is. America tends to separate the different types of music and people believe that. It will be a long, long journey trying to get everyone to believe that it is part of everyone’s culture.
“I do as much as I can. I see more and more diversity at my shows.”
Rhiannon describes her mission in music as very education based. An education that acknowledges everybody’s contributions.
“When you look at the history of music, American music is a mixture of all the people that came here. It is really beautiful when you really dig.
“My mission is very educational – People run when they see me coming at this point – laughs –
“I am so obsessed with the truth.”
Rhiannon is driven by the power of what creative people can do with music.
“This is what humans can do and then people want to come along and make money and they separate. And they want to control and they separate even more. And they want to tell the story that sees their end so they separate even more.”
“Music is always striving to reconnect. I think it shows the beauty of America than the usual narrative.”
While the musician has taken part in The Limerick Fling at UL, it is surprising to hear that the upcoming show in Limerick will be Rhiannon’s debut proper on stage in the city having lived here since 2007.
“It is my first Limerick show, I’m quite excited.
The show will feature music from a new album made with Francesco Turrisi coming out in May. The record, as yet untitled, was recorded in 2018 at Windmill Lane Studios, Dublin with Joe Henry producing
“It is a departure from the previous two records with the full band. I have kinda gone back to my roots now. It is just the two of us. Our two soundscapes, he does a lot of piano and African rhythms and I play the banjo and the fiddle.”
Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi perform at Lime Tree Theatre this Saturday March 9 at 8pm.