Dubois: “The Banjo” (2016)

A wide-ranging overview of American history as seen and heard through one particular instrument:

2016-Dubois-TheBanjo-9780674047846-lg The Banjo: America’s African Instrument
Laurent Dubois

“Part of what happened in the Americas, notably in the Caribbean, was the invention of something called ‘Africa.’  Within the continent itself during the seventeenth and eighteenth century,  the term had little meaning.  But in the plantation context, it took on a new importance as displace people from throughout the continent were thrown together and had begun to communicate and survive together.  In the midst of a brutal plantation world, within a community made up of peoples from throughout the African continent, they sought out ways to create moments of commonality and coalition.  What the enslaved invented, what they in many cases decided they needed, were cultural forms that were welcoming, that could embrace variety, but that were still familiar enough to be recognizable.  Most importantly, they had to bring people together, to create new solidarities.  Music and dance were particularly powerful ways to create moments of commonality and coalition. …

“The banjo was the growing of a new gourd in strange lands to replace the broken ones of the old, the crafting of strings to sound out new songs.  It became a way to connect with both the past and the present, to build a bridge of memory and recall.  … It was recognizably African, and instrument capable of offering familiar melodies and rhythms, but without being clearly derived from the traditions of any single African ethnicity.  It was the first African instrument.”

In this 2013 video, Dubois credits the work of Dena Epstein and Cece Conway:

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