26 Feb 2020

Rhiannon Giddens: there is no Other

From Upbeat, 12:30 pm on 26 February 2020

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American singer Rhiannon Giddens makes her debut in this country next week at New Zealand Festival with partner Francisco Turrisi.

Giddens is a singer and banjo and fiddle player while Francesco Turrisi is a jazz pianist and percussionist.

Last year the pair got together to record an experimental album there is no Other using an unusual mix of Arabian and Western instruments to play gospel, bluegrass, early baroque and Mediterranean music.

Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi

Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi Photo: KAREN COX

The musicians wanted to explore the history of the many Arabian instruments that found their way into Europe over the centuries just as the banjo came to the New World with the Africans transported to the United States as slaves.

Francesco plays a number of percussion instruments while Rhiannon’s main instrument is an 1850s replica minstrel banjo which pairs perfectly with his frame drum, called a daf.

The title of the album there is no Other refers to the way certain groups are being discriminated against because of their origins which Rhiannon says makes no historical sense.

“There’s this incredible sense of connection with all of this music once you start digging into it; we’re all connected from the vast and long routes of travel that human beings have been travelling ever since we came out of Africa.”

She says this idea of people being different or Other is widespread and affects how people are looked at and can lead to violence.  

“We’re just trying to use our tools, which is our music, to combat that, and to say it’s never been this way; what we do as human nature is to come together and music is one of those ways we can show that in an easy way.”