Carolina Chocolate Drops

One of the great things about having cool friends is being introduced to the music they like. For example, tonight I went with Amy to see the Carolina Chocolate Drops in concert at the 9:30 Club. I’d never heard of them (despite the fact that they won a Grammy in 2012), but Amy had seen them several times before and assured me that I would like them.

Like them?  I loved them!  The band is based in North Carolina and focuses on early traditional African American music — as in, the fiddle and banjo tunes that emerged from the slave era and formed the foundation for so much of modern American music.  It was clear throughout the concert that they cared very much about the historical context and significance of the music they played.  They spoke of growing up in the South, of learning to play fiddle from octagenarian musicians who passed on what they knew before passing away themselves, and of the history of the banjo and black-face minstrels and how newly-freed slaves followed the Union army during the Civil War hoping for a better life but found themselves stuck in shanty-towns on the outskirts of camp.  They even spoke of the significant presence in North Carolina of settlers from the Scottish Highlands — and performed two numbers in Scots Gaelic from the region. 

The result was a musical experience that felt organic and grounded, conscious of history and deeply committed to letting the music tell the story of its creators and become part of the lives of those who listened.

To my ear, by far the most hauntingly beautiful song of the night was called Genuine Negro Jig.  Here’s a Youtube recording:

As for something more up-tempo and modern, here’s a video for their “Country Girl” song, which is  about growing up in the South and taking pride in where you come from:

Finally, if you’re interested in learning more about the banjo and bones they play (yes, those things that sound like castinets? REAL BONES!), check out this interview:

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