Our Native Daughters, Songs of Our Native Daughters Reviews
By: Bea Willis
Songs of Our Native Daughters shines new light on African-American women’s stories of struggle, resistance, and hope. Inspired by 17th, 18th, and 19th-century sources, including slave narratives and early minstrelsy. The recording is part of Smithsonian Folkways African American Legacy Recordings series, co-produced with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. The album is brought to life by like-minded banjo players Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell.
The album’s opener is dripping with blues sensibilities. Acclaimed vocalist Amythyst Kiah’s brings the song to life with her powerfully endowed delta voice. Kiah’s studied old-time music at East Tennessee State University, it was there she gained the attention of Giddens while performing at The Cambridge Folk Festival in the UK. Alternatively, the four musicians drew on their own ancestral history with slavery. The discerning songwriting and lamenting singing of Allison Russell singes the emotional feelings on “Quasheba, Quasheba.” Russell wrote “Quasheba, Quasheba” about her paternal ancestor who was sold into slavery off of the coast of Ghana. The tune recalls Quasheba’s harrowing experience, “raped and beaten/every baby taken/starved and sold and sold again/but ain’t you a woman/of love deservin’/ain’t it somethin’ you survived.” Through Russell lyrics the listener is afforded the knowledge of her ancestors’ experience.
“I Knew I Could Fly,” is co-written by Leyla McCalla and Allison Russell. Leyla McCalla is a multi-instrumentalist and singer of Haitian descent who grew up in New York, she toured with the Carolina Chocolate Drops that also featured Rhiannon Giddens as the lead vocalist. “I Knew I Could Fly” was inspired by both the story and the guitar sound of Piedmont blues guitarist Etta Baker, a now renowned musician who didn’t release any music until she was in her 60s.
Songs of Our Native Daughters provides a much-needed alternative view of the dark history of slavery. In shedding light through the stunning music and seamlessly beautiful writing of contemporary black female musicians, collectively called Our Native Daughters, the album finds new characteristics in the story of American racism. With unwavering, resolute honesty, Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell confront sanitized views about America’s history of slavery and racism from four distinctive and remarkably talented black females and their perspective. The 52 minute, 36-page booklet with lyrics is a moving journey and eye-opening experience. One to be savored many times over.
Release Date: February 22, 2019
Label: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings