Rhiannon Giddens Headlines Rhythm & Roots Sunday

Rhiannon GiddensRhiannon Giddens is bringing her clear, distinctive voice, her prowess on banjo and fiddle, and her musical collaborator Francesco Turrisi to Rhythm & Roots on Sunday, Sept. 6.

Known by Rhythm & Roots fans for her work with the Grammy award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops, a black string band, Giddens as a solo artist has continued to shake up the music that reflects the African-American experience.

She’s most recently connected with Turrisi, an Italian multi-instrumentalist. Together, they are blending African and Arabic music with the fiddle and banjo sounds traditionalists are accustomed to.

Both have immersed themselves in musical history. Giddens has made it her mission to expose the “mass coverup” of the banjo’s link to African-American history, as she said recently in OffBeat magazine. “The banjo has been oversimplified, overlooked, but it is one of the most important pieces of American culture.”

Turrisi’s musical background is flavored by Islamic and North African influences. They believe the influence of Islamic music and culture on America and Europe is under-appreciated. Last year they produced the album, “there is no Other,” and the song, “I’m On My Way,” which blends Turrisi’s frame drum with her minstrel banjo. The unusual combination, along with its inclusive message, wowed fans and landed Giddens and Turrisi a Grammy nomination for best American roots performance.

The unusual mix of instruments tells a historical story that’s fresh for Rhythm & Roots fans who have always appreciated new directions in roots music. Giddens plays octave violin and viola, but may be best known for the sounds of her fretless minstrel banjo, a replica from 1858. Turrisi plays frame drum, lute, cello banjo, accordion, piano, an Italian tambourine called a tamburello and a long-necked lute called the colascione.

Giddens grew up in Greensboro, N.C., listening to her uncle’s bluegrass band but found her true love when she heard clawhammer, old-time banjo after college. Giddens is also an Oberlin-trained opera singer who once waited tables and sang old Italian arias at a Macaroni Grill restaurant.

A 2017 MacArthur Foundation genius grant has helped Giddens dive into her eclectic mix of passions. The Giddens and Turrisi duo last year collaborated on the music for a ballet, Lucy Negro Redux, performed in Nashville and Knoxville, Tenn. Giddens is composing an opera about an enslaved Senegalese scholar, Omar, with banjo, fiddle and voice. She also will play Bess in the George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess at the Greensboro Opera in November.

“We all have varying ways of expressing ourselves, but we’re expressing the same stuff, no matter where we come from, no matter who we are,” said Giddens, speaking with WNYC radio last year. “There’s a commonality of the human experience … we can find way more in common than apart.”

Tickets are available now to the Labor Day weekend music and dance festival at Ninigret Park in Charlestown.