“If you want to understand what’s happening today, find out what happened 150 years ago. If people had the courage to live that history, the least I can do is read about it.” ~Rhiannon Giddens
Last night I went to see and hear Rhiannon Giddens, Layla McCalla, and Bhi Bhiman perform at Lisner Auditorium in a performance they called Swimming in Dark Waters: Other Voices of the American Experience. While work songs and spirituals have been songs of protest and freedom, Rhiannon explained that they wanted to travel a different musical road last night. They wanted to use a mashup of folk, classical, and pop to tell a story of struggle, personal power, love, change, and hope. It was an incredibly powerful performance. Their voices, music, and message were so concentrated that they pierced the hearts and minds of the packed house.
All of the songs were rooted in culture, history, and art, and for me that was the message I needed. History is a potent tool. It can help us make sense of what’s happening around us now, and inform the decisions we make going forward. I left the concert feeling both whole and heartbroken, sad and joyful, determined and dreamy. And that’s the magic of music – it can make us feel so much all at once and then help us to reconcile the internal and external difference.