Thursday, August 10, 2017

From OPC to SFJAZZ: Rhiannon Giving Brings Soulful Folk Music to the Bay Area

                                       
By Shelah Moody
Rhiannon Giddens’ upcoming SFJAZZ performance at the Herbst Theatre on Oct. 28 sold out fast, but you can still catch Grammy winning folk artist Rhiannon Giddens on tour this summer and fall.  Giddens’ high profile dates include appearances at the renowned Newport Jazz Festival (Rhode Island) and the Edmonton Folk Music Festival in Canada. (http://rhiannongiddens.com/#shows).
Prior to the announcement of Giddens’  2016 Grammy nominations for best Folk Album and Best American Roots Performance (“Factory Girl,” Nonesuch Records), the visionary singer, composer violinist and banjoist  made a rare appearance at the Oakland Public Conservatory of Music on November 19, 2016.
Giddens conducted a vocal workshop at OPC during the afternoon performed with two acclaimed young American roots artists in their own right, banjoist Hubby Jenkins and tap dancer Robyn Watson in the evening.
 In her OPC vocal workshop, Giddens had the chance to interact up close and in person with members of the Bay Area diverse community, including youth, musicians, students, poets and visual artists.
“Another man done gone/Gone from the county farm/I didn’t know his name/ I don’t know where he’s gone/He had a long chain on/He killed another man/I’m going to walk your load down by the waterfall…”

                                        
                  Rhiannon Giddens led a vocal workshop at Oakland Public Conservatory of Music.

Such is the story of a man who has escaped from prison, slavery or some unbearable situation circumstance.  Giddens drew her students into the heart of the folk and blues ballad, using only her foot as accompaniment, guiding us through the song verse by verse. Giddens was quick to emphasize the joy of making music and incorporating it into daily life. Giddens found that people are often afraid to sing in public and in groups because of lack of formal training.
“We’ve gotten so divorced from that, people think, well, I can’t sing, because I’m not going to be on stage,” said Giddens, a native of Greensboro North Carolina who currently lives in Ireland with he husband and two children.
“Well, you can sing. Everybody can sing. We used to sing all the time. It’s what keeps you going. I went to the Oberlin Conservatory and I studied opera, I studied it for years and I got all in it. I loved Verdi, loved Puccini. I still love that music, and I’ve been able to take that training and use it in every aspect of what I do.”
In 2011, Giddens received a Grammy award for Best Traditional Folk Album, Performing a cappella, Giddens said, also puts you in touch with your own voice. “Genuine Negro Jig.”
“Something that you don’t hear anymore is the idea of not having a microphone,” said Giddens. “You see the youth today, and the microphone’s got to be right here (close to the mouth). “I had to learn how to use a mic, and it was torturous. The thing about learning how to sing without a microphone is that you have to learn how to breathe. I had to re-learn how to breathe. We all breathe with (the shoulders) and we become tense in that area. To breathe like an opera singer, you have to breathe from (the diaphragm). “

                                              
                                                                      Hubby Jenkins

Then, Giddens urged her students to sit up straight, relax their shoulders, and take a deep belly breath before singing. Ahhh!
After a pre-Thanksgiving community feast of chicken coconut stew, homemade cornbread, black-eyed peas and rice, yams, collard greens with caramelized ginger and sweet tea from Mamacita’s kitchen in the OPC building, the Oakland audience was treated to one of the finest acoustic performances  this writer has ever seen.  Giddens, Jenkins and Watson explored the black roots of American music from square dance to the blues idiom through banjo, fiddle, voice and dance.
For more information on OPC’s up close and personal workshops and performances, go to: https://www.opcmusic.org.


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