our history

Folk singer Rhiannon Giddens brings together musical traditions from her mixed race heritage in the southern States of the USA (her parents married only 3 years after the unconstitutional ban was overturned), along with Gaelic and wider sources. She is a phenomenal and versatile performer with ballet and opera composing credits to her name and recently appointed the artistic director of the Silk Road ensemble founded by cellist Yo Yo Ma. She is also a music historian. She traces the history of the banjo from its African roots through the travelling bands of enslaved then indentured musicians in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the appropriation of this genre into black-face minstrelsy continuing well into the twentieth century, and the general abandonment of this tainted culture by its originating people such that the banjo associates today with white folk music.

The preface to David Olosuga’s book Black and British describes how Enoch “Rivers of Blood” Powell fantasised a history in which empire is excised, returning to an imagined time of Britons untainted by rule, misdeed and othered people. This is indeed the history served up by our schools. However,  we cannot understand ourselves without history, and there is no history save that it contains Black and colonial history, out and inward migration, the rich mix of cultures and ideas that shapes our everyday heritage. Stripped down history to pretend a white narrative is thin gruel indeed.

On Sunday I chanced upon a live concert by Rhiannon Giddens and her partner, Francesco Turrisi, from her home in Ireland, relayed from Santa Barbara.  These are the sketches I did live and playing back the show. You can see I was really challenged trying to capture the shape of her face and features while singing, and I put the gallery of attempts below as a record.  By contrast Turrisi was quite easy to capture but he sat still and faced away from the camera looking at Giddens. In the sketch above, she is playing the viola and her face is full of shifting expressions as she looks back at him.

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respite

This is an attempt to render tones in false colour; using a pink and pastel blue to represent mid-tones between white and black on black paper. It began as a dog-sketch, that is a drawing done in the time it takes for a spaniel to become bored waiting for me.  I reworked it later at home.

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Alongside drawing I am also trying to learn to play this Balkan love song on electric guitar (“Phirava daje phirava …”, first line of the verse which translates as “I travelled mother I travelled, I went to Tetovo, to see Mirvet, to steal her eyes”).

Tetovo it a town in Northern Macedonia.  I realise I have been near there two decades ago, visiting my mother on her Balkan adventures (working for a non-governmental organisation, manning a polling station in post-war Serbia, smoking, drinking and playing endless cards)

Hope’s Starlings – Murmurations

This painting of starlings has been used as the cover art for the indie/folk album Murmurations. SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA I created random effects with paint drying slowly under cellophane then worked back into this with deeper tones. murmuration 1 I had several attempts at depicting this idea.  In the version above, the blocks of swaying rushes were formed by tensing the cellophane vertically in the lower section and the murmuration shapes came from pulling the upper part horizontally. I used wax resist on the murmuration to create granularity from beading of subsequent layers of drying paint. This painting is used on the inside cover of the album. SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA In these first attempts, I had tried to paint in each bird individually, though this loses the sense of coordination of the flock.  Details from the painting below front the album insert and intersperse the lyrics. SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA I have played Hope’s Starlings to and from work these last few days since singer songwriter Kate Sutherland sent me the albums.  This is an all female group, mostly singing unaccompanied or with gentle drum rhythm.  The sense of the album is of an ageless female spirituality rooted in the natural world.  It dragged out of my memory a similar use of pared down lyrics and minimal accompaniment to reach towards spiritual expression, albeit in a more overtly religious setting.