TONIGHT: Watch ‘Reclaiming Our History: Our Native Daughters’ a Documentary About “Reclaiming Our History”

Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla & Allison Russell discuss empowered Black country, roots and Americana music

Two years ago, four of America’s premier roots musicians and string instrumentalists — Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell — joined forces as Our Native Daughters for Smithsonian Folkways Recordings’ release Songs Of Our Native Daughters. The album features four Black women reclaiming the banjo’s power as America’s first and Blackest melodic instrument. Songs like “Mama’s Cryin’ Long” “call on the persistent spirits of the daughters, mothers, and grandmothers who have fought for justice” on an album that Rolling Stone calls “a crucial pronouncement in folk music.” NPR notes that the album’s artistic mission is to “supplant the portrayals of slavery as an abstract, ancient sin with the imaginative, immersive contemplation of its human impact and aftermath.”

Tonight at 9pm ET, the Smithsonian Channel premieres Reclaiming Our History: Our Native Daughters, a documentary highlighting the creative process to create such a dynamic album. In regards to what inspired her to join the quartet, Amythyst Kiah notes, “It’s frustrating to have to prove that it’s my birthright, by blood, to play, enjoy, and participate in the making of this music. This music has thrived off of [Black people] being ‘othered,’ so we’re over-compensating for that.”

As well, in regards to the mystical and spiritual creative process — shown in the documentary — that transpired during recording, Kiah relates a poignant memory:

“Sometimes, I’d see a white family smiling and laughing, and I’d say, ‘How could you possibly be smiling and laughing! Don’t you know what happened in our history?’ I was losing my mind because I was absorbing the good, bad, and ugly that create the pain of history and channeling it into a pure, beautiful, and musical form.”

In sitting with Giddens, Kiah, McCalla, and Russell to discuss this impacting and incredible album, as many notes are revealed regarding transformational emotional experiences, as are ones related to Black history and music.

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