Afro Women Overcoming Enslavement
‘Reclaiming History: Our Native Daughters,’ is a documentary that explores the stories of enslaved Afro women by way of the 2019 folk album 'Songs of Our Native Daughters' by four black female North-American singer-songwriters — Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla, Allison Russell and Amythyst Kiah.
Russell shares how the journey of bringing the project to life affected her.
"The whole became greater than the sum of its parts. It felt like our ancestors were there with us because they are. We wouldn't be here doing this, having this talk if it wasn't for the strength and the resilience and just, you know, a tremendous wealth of that lineage that's carried forward in us, you know. And so that was healing. That was… there was..it was a healing experience to make this music together."
Cultural Appropriation of Afro Music
American music with today's diverse genres almost all originate from African Americans — whose contributions have often been whitewashed or completely erased. A recurring phenomenon present in the musical genres of Rock n Roll, Country, Jazz — and more recently, even in Hip Hop and R&B.
Giddens expresses her frustration with racism in the music indiûstry and how art can reach across racial divides in music and genre.
"Each of us, I know because we've talked about it, we each have had frustrations with the, you know, the way that American music is segregated to the point where it's not that Black people wouldn't like the music, it's that the access is skewed, you know, because of the history of the music that we all do and because of the way that it's been — it's been split and the narrative has been falsified and all of that, so that's a frustration is not going to change with one tour."
Honouring and Owning African Heritage
The project connects the ancestral stories of African and Afro women navigating slavery and racial oppression throughout recent history to their own modern-day experiences as black women of the musical quartet. A creative process appears to have been both personally traumatising — and yet culturally empowering.
Russell gets emotional about finding strength, resilience and power in the stories contained with the musical project.
"We are an African species that created a diaspora all around the world and all of these beautiful branches of lineage grew up in culture. And we're back and forth and back and forth. And there's all this pain and misery bound up in that. But there's also resilience, hope, joy, innovation bound up in that, you know. And so as much as we can —as much as we need to face the pain of the past, we also have to bring forward the joy and the innovation. And I think that's what we tried to do on this record."
"Reclaiming History: Our Native Daughters," debuted on the US Smithsonian Channel on February 22.