Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi Credit: Karen Cox

Classically trained vocalist and masterful banjo and fiddle player Rhiannon Giddens is celebrated as one of the leading proponents of what’s variously called Americana or roots music. Though her aesthetic has wide appeal, she toughens it with her uncompromising determination to bear witness to the ongoing (and too often neglected) Africanist voice and history in the Western “folk” and vernacular traditions. Giddens was cofounder of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a contemporary string band whose deft musicianship and gift for updating traditional themes and ideas earned them a Grammy for the 2010 album Genuine Negro Jig (Nonesuch). Since releasing her first solo album, Tomorrow Is My Turn, in 2015, she has involved herself in a dizzying array of projects, many of which have focused bluntly on the historical and ongoing legacy of slavery in America. A 2017 recipient of the MacArthur “genius grant,” Giddens has continued to refine and expand her message; her most recent release, May’s There Is No Other, a collaboration with Italian multi-instrumentalist Francesco Turrisi, honors and demystifies the roles played by African and Arabic influences in what’s usually considered European or American musical culture. But don’t expect an exercise in folkie pedagogy: as she demonstrated in a duet with Tom Jones on “St. James Infirmary” (on Jools Holland’s 2015 New Year’s Eve BBC show), the heart of Giddens’s music is affirmation. The fearlessness of the ancestors whose lives she re-creates in her songs is manifest in the hard-won joy that permeates both her music and her onstage demeanor—even her daunting vocal technique and instrumental prowess are celebrations of life.   v