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Review: Otis Taylor's Recapturing the Banjo

GUEST,Dani 24 Jan 09 - 09:05 AM
Stringsinger 24 Jan 09 - 12:44 PM
bald headed step child 24 Jan 09 - 03:09 PM
bald headed step child 24 Jan 09 - 05:06 PM
Suzy T. 24 Jan 09 - 05:16 PM
bald headed step child 25 Jan 09 - 03:41 AM
NormanD 25 Jan 09 - 04:44 AM
bald headed step child 25 Jan 09 - 05:15 AM
NormanD 25 Jan 09 - 06:42 AM
Azizi 25 Jan 09 - 07:08 AM
Azizi 25 Jan 09 - 07:26 AM
Azizi 25 Jan 09 - 07:37 AM
GUEST,Dani 25 Jan 09 - 08:00 AM
bald headed step child 25 Jan 09 - 08:04 AM
bald headed step child 25 Jan 09 - 08:09 AM
matt milton 25 Jan 09 - 08:10 AM
greg stephens 25 Jan 09 - 08:13 AM
bald headed step child 25 Jan 09 - 08:15 AM
Amos 25 Jan 09 - 10:59 AM
bald headed step child 25 Jan 09 - 02:08 PM
bald headed step child 26 Jan 09 - 11:51 AM
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Subject: Review: Otis Taylor's Recapturing the Banjo
From: GUEST,Dani
Date: 24 Jan 09 - 09:05 AM

What do you think?

Anyone else exploring the CD, and the subject?

http://www.concordmusicgroup.com/albums/Recapturing-the-Banjo/

Dani


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Subject: RE: Review: Otis Taylor's Recapturing the Banjo
From: Stringsinger
Date: 24 Jan 09 - 12:44 PM

1. Johnny St. Cyr didn't play the tenor banjo. He played 6-string banjo tuned like a guitar.
2. A mention of Taj Mahal should be here. He won the Topanga Canyon banjo and fiddle contests for a couple of years in a row and his score for the movie Sounder features his banjo playing.
3. The separation between the four-string and five-string is a recent development. Early string band groups used both. The Georgia YellowHammers come to mind. Also,
in North Georgia white groups as well.

It has become a question as to whether the white Minstrel show entertainers actually wrote some of the songs they are noted for, such as Daniel Emmett with Dixie and Old Dan Tucker. The banjo was not as popular as the fiddle on the "plantation" however many of the tunes emanated from the slavery times. Did these entertainers copy what they heard from Black slave tunes? You can't always determine the origin of a song from its printed copyright.

The important thing to remember about the banjo is that it has until recently been a dance music instrument because of its rhythmic percussion. Bluegrass changed some of that but in the process left some of the idiosyncrasies of the banjo and its sound.

According to Karen Lin, "The Half-Barbaric Twang", the banjo crossed over into Appalachia because of the exposure of the instrument in the traveling show, Uncle Tom's Cabin. This was seen all over the South.

Uncle Dave Macon popularized the Minstrel Show style comparatively recently on the Grand Old Opry. Many of the songs of the Hoe-downs and "set-runnings" had roots in the early Minstrel Shows such as Cindy, Angline the Baker (Angelina Baker), etc.


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Subject: RE: Review: Otis Taylor's Recapturing the Banjo
From: bald headed step child
Date: 24 Jan 09 - 03:09 PM

Stringsinger, it is worthy to note St Cyr played 6 string, however the article was saying Vappie, a tenor player, plays in a style reminiscent of St Cyr's style.

I have this album(cd), and I love it.

Otis has been using banjo in his recorded music for his entire career.

In an interview on XM radio when the album came out he explained why Taj Mahal isn't on it. He and the others were intimidated at the thought of asking the master to be a part of the project. They all hold him in very high esteem.

In another interview on XM, Taj, when told this, was honored that they felt this way, but also sounded a little disappointed, so we may be hearing him sometime in the future with some of these guys??(fingers crossed):)

Otis also talked about when he was growing up with banjo being his primary instrument. People kept saying "your good, you should go play at the festivals down south", which did not seem to him to be a good idea for a black man in the 60's. I can't say that I blame him on that one.

Most of the artists on this album have been playing banjo for years, but with few exceptions, haven't recorded much with it.

Banjo is an african instrument, that was heavily used by the pre-blues and some of the early blues musicians, but the racist aspects of minstrelsy in the south caused them to distance themselves from it.

This is the reason for the title of the album, and actually recapturing the banjo is something that Otis has been doing for some time.

I highly recommend this album, and would also note that in the liner notes Otis gives some listings of recommended cd's for additional listening that are very good. I just got another one of them a few days ago. Several of them are Folkways recordings and are relatively easy to get.

BHSC


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Subject: RE: Review: Otis Taylor's Recapturing the Banjo
From: bald headed step child
Date: 24 Jan 09 - 05:06 PM

I thought I'd go ahead and offer some other titles that relate to the subject here.

All of Otis Taylors albums contain banjo, and are good in my opinion.
"Below the Fold", and "Definition of a circle" being a couple of the best.

Guy Davis, who is on this album, has a very good album titled "skunkmello", which has a few banjo tracks on it. He is a very accomplished clawhammer player.

The Carolina Chocolate Drops are a very good newer string band who have a couple of albums out. The most recent I believe is "Dona got a ramblin mind".

"Black banjo songsters of North Carolina and Virginia" is a Smithsonian Folkways recorded between 1974 and 1997. 32 tracks from some real old time players, some of whom were originally recorded decades ago. This is a good one for banjo players but may not be for everyone. I believe the Folkways website has sound clips.

"The North Carolina Banjo Collection" Rounder Records, has a few of the same players from the songsters cd above doing different tunes, but is a collection of a wide variety of players, both black and white. Some of the more notable names are Etta baker, Elizabeth Cotten, John Snipes, Doc Watson, Snuffy Jenkins,Frank Proffitt, Fred Cockerham, and Olla Belle Reed. 42 tracks on 2 cds.

All of these should be available thru Barnes, Borders, Amazon, etc.

Some Youtubes and links of interest.

Otis Taylor website

Otis Taylor-Recapturing the Banjo

Guy Davis

Carolina Chocolate Drops

Hope this is helpful :)

BHSC


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Subject: RE: Review: Otis Taylor's Recapturing the Banjo
From: Suzy T.
Date: 24 Jan 09 - 05:16 PM

I was intrigued by this album, listened to some online and liked what I heard, so went to hear a live show with Otis Taylor and Don Vappie, touted as "Black Banjo". I was disappointed. Don Vappie is a brilliant technician but he performed very pedestrian, show-offy, audience-pleasers -- that was disappointing since I know that he is capable of getting much deeper into the music -- although it may be that this kind of performance is just what he does, because it was virtually identical to the other performances I've seem him do. Otis Taylor played only one piece where he used the banjo (he played a 5 string) in a way that made use of the 5th string -- it was an "original" piece which was basically the first line of Cluck Old Hen played over and over for about 7 minutes, with original intermittent lyrics. And with a kind of "funk" electric bass line, quite loud (I think the banjo had a pickup). If I had been dancing I might have enjoyed it but it was not all that interesting to listen to. The rest of the "banjo" pieces were essentially Otis using the banjo in exactly the same way as he would have used a guitar, ignoring the 5th string, and he eventually actually switched to guitar. He was backed by his extremely gorgeous daughter, who played electric bass and sang, and another young guitarist, and Don Vappie. This was a few months back now, so I may have forgotten someone.

Otis Taylor is a wonderful singer and a good guitarist, and has some good original material, but the show I saw lacked depth.   I felt a bit like the performers were working too hard, or trying too hard to be entertainers, whereas I would have preferred for them to focus on the music itself. For me, the "entertaining show" aspect seemed like a way of the performers putting a wall in between them and the audience. But that's just me -- I suspect the general population prefers for the performers to do the work of entertaining -- the performances I like best require the audience to meet the performers halfway (at least).


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Subject: RE: Review: Otis Taylor's Recapturing the Banjo
From: bald headed step child
Date: 25 Jan 09 - 03:41 AM

I just picked up a book at Barnes this afternoon that ties in to this conversation.

It involves some of the players on the Songsters cd from above,John Snipes and Dink Roberts. The title is "African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia" by Cecelia Conway. University of Tennessee Press, 1995.

I've only gotten thru the preface and 1st chapter, and of course scanned thru the pictures and some of the other text, but it seems like it would be of interest to anyone who would be interested in this thread.

I will probably start a new thread on the book when I get thru with it, but I thought it might be pertinent now, so I thought I'd add it now.

BHSC


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Subject: RE: Review: Otis Taylor's Recapturing the Banjo
From: NormanD
Date: 25 Jan 09 - 04:44 AM

I share suzy T's experience of the live show. I saw "Capturing The Banjo" package (with Guy Davis, Corey Harris, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Otis Taylor, and Don Vappie) on its earlier leg of a UK tour last year. It was a good evening, but somehow the total was weaker than its component parts. The group sat in a horsehoe, and took turns to play, and swapped a few solos, and did some ensemble work. Fortunately, there was no air of competitive rivalry or egotism, but maybe that's what weakened the show a little.

Don Vappie came across as a fine player, a real surprise to me.

The first half of the evening had been a performance by Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba. They wiped the floor and set a very high standard for the second half, which the banjo guys could not beat.
A sample of Bassekou here


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Subject: RE: Review: Otis Taylor's Recapturing the Banjo
From: bald headed step child
Date: 25 Jan 09 - 05:15 AM

Thanks for the link, Norm. They are very good. I added that to a playlist so I can investigate more later.

Any idea what the instruments are called? I have seen similar instruments, but not quite the same. They appear to have skin heads like a banjo, maybe a predecessor?

BHSC


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Subject: RE: Review: Otis Taylor's Recapturing the Banjo
From: NormanD
Date: 25 Jan 09 - 06:42 AM

It's called an ngoni - they are the Ngoni Band. It is a predecessor of the banjo. There was a very good article in fRoots magazine a couple of years back on Bassekou Kouyate (who has since got a lot of deserved recognition) called - wait for it - Only Ngoni.

Their album is extremely good, not a bum track on it.

Bassekou has worked as a sidesman for several years, and was originally proposed as a member of the musical project that became The Buena Vista Social Club. He has also recorded with Taj Mahal on the album he cut with Toumani Diabate (I forget the title, but it's apparently on Barrack Obama's favourite album list).


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Subject: RE: Review: Otis Taylor's Recapturing the Banjo
From: Azizi
Date: 25 Jan 09 - 07:08 AM

As Norman indicated, the instrument that Bassekou Kouyate and some members of his group play is the ngoni.

See this article that describes the ngoni and provides information about other West African names for this instrument:The ngoni, a plucked lute from West Africa.

In case the hyperlink goes bad, I'm posting most of that article below:

"Ngoni is the Bambara name for an ancient traditional lute found throughout West Africa. Though typically a small instrument the ngoni has a big sound and a big place in the history of West African music. Its body is a hollowed-out, canoe-shaped piece of wood with dried animal skin stretched over it like a drum.

The neck is a fretless length of doweling that inserts into the body, which unlike the kora (whose neck goes totally through its calabash resonator) stops short of coming out the base of the instrument. For this reason musicologists classify the ngoni as a "internal spike lute."

The ngoni's strings (which are made of thin fishing line like the kora) are lashed to the neck with movable strips of leather, and then fed over a fan-shaped bridge at the far end of the body. The string closest to the player actually produces the highest pitch, and the player plucks it with his thumb, just like a 5-string banjo. This feature, coupled with the fact that the ngoni's body is a drum rather than a box, provides strong evidence that the ngoni is the African ancestor of the banjo.

Instruments of this general construction can be found from Morocco to Nigeria, and everywhere in between. Some are very large, such as the gimbri played the mystic Gnawa brotherhood of Morocco. Others are tiny, such as the one-stringed gurkel of northern Mali. In Senegal the Wolof call it xalam (pronounced: halam) while in the Gambia the Mandinka have a 5-string version they call kontingo. The version played by the Manding griots of The Gambia, Mali and Guinea is typically about two-feet long and has either four or seven strings. Ngoni players can use a variety of techniques and tunings, below are three typical tunings:

[See the article]

In the hands of a skilled griot instrumentalist, the ngoni can produce crisp, rapid melodies, loaded with cross-rhythms and chromatic nuance. The quintessential ngoni player was the late Banzumana Sissoko, perhaps the most revered and beloved Malian griot of the century. Until his death in 1987, could virtually bring affairs in Mali to a halt when he went on the national radio to sing and play his large, deep-toned ngoni. Of course, is was principally Banzoumanas incisive words that won people's breathless attention, but the fact that he played a ngoni is significant. For Malians in particular, this instrument is deeply tied to their sense of history and identity.
In recent years, some great young instrumentalists have developed the ngonis technical range. Perhaps the foremost ngoni modernizer in Mali is Basekou Kouyate of Segou. Basekou's father played the large ngoni, like Banzumana. But like most of the current generation, Basekou gravitated towards the small, high-pitched version of the instrument. Basekou plays in an instrumental Manding music power trio with Toumani Diabate (kora) and Keletigui Diabate (balaphone). All of these players are modernizers who bring in Western and other influences into their music. Since the ngoni remains the most popular traditional string instrument in Mali, there are many other great young players who have made places for themselves within the griot tradition. Among the most sought-after ngoni players these days are Sayan Sissoko, Mama Sissoko and Moriba Koita."

-snip-

There doesn't appear to be any etymology link for the name for the West African musical instrument "ngoni" and the name of the Ngoni ethnic group of East/Central Africa. These people came to what is now Tanzania in 1840 "fleeing from "mfecane" (the times of troubles) brought about by the Zulu expansion under their famous King, Shaka."

History of Tanganyika:


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Subject: RE: Review: Otis Taylor's Recapturing the Banjo
From: Azizi
Date: 25 Jan 09 - 07:26 AM

Sorry about that first hyperlink in my previous post. Somehow both of the hyperlinks work.

Here's an excerpt of an online review of Bassekou Kouyate's premier album {It's not the fRoots article that NormanD mentioned, but imo, it's pretty good}

.."Bassekou Kouyate is a virtuoso of the ngoni (West African lute), approximating the larger kora (West African harp) in sound but with a tougher, more percussive edge. Outside his home country of Mali, where he is widely celebrated, Kouyate is known for his work with artists like the late guitarist Ali Farka Toure—he was featured on Toure's posthumous album Savane (World Circuit, 2006)—kora player Toumani Diabete and American roots musician Taj Mahal.

Segu Blue, Kouyate's debut recording as leader, ought to fast-track him into the front ranks of African music star exports. It's an album of understated but awesome beauty, full of lush melodies and supple rhythms, deep, peaceful and healing; happier sounding than Ali Farka Toure's music, but equally weighty and mesmeric.

Kouyate's band, Ngoni Ba ("the big ngoni") is a quartet of ngoni players—treble, mid range and bass—augmented by Kouyate's wife, Ami Sacko, on lead vocals, and two percussionists. Guest singers and musicians are featured on six of the fourteen tracks. The earthy tenor Zoumani Tereta takes lead vocals on two tunes; shades-of-Ali Farka Toure electric guitarist Lobi Traoré is featured on another. All the tunes are drawn from, or closely based on, traditional Bambara music from the Segu region of Mali: three are traditional, all but one of the others are composed by Kouyate"...

-snip-

Fwiw, "Jumbu and the Ngoni Band" is the name of a reggae band that is from Zurich, Switzerland. No ngoni instrument is played in this band. And none of the musicians/singers are from the Ngoni ethnic group {at least, I don't believe that any of the members of this interracial group come from the Ngoni people}.


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Subject: RE: Review: Otis Taylor's Recapturing the Banjo
From: Azizi
Date: 25 Jan 09 - 07:37 AM

With regard to Otis Taylor and other Black banjo players, I'm glad that they are reclaiming that instrument and letting people know about its African roots.

As for me, I can't yet separate that instrument from its American minstrel history...

I'm still trying.


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Subject: RE: Review: Otis Taylor's Recapturing the Banjo
From: GUEST,Dani
Date: 25 Jan 09 - 08:00 AM

I think that's partly the point, Azizi. I'm glad you're here : )

I'm super-glad these guys are playing and talking about the instrument, and especially the traditional music. Alvin Youngblood Hart is one of my favorite musicians/singers.

There is at least one huge generation of white musicians in the South who have been playing, enjoying, preserving this great swath of music. Some of us have looked around for years and wondered where the heck the black musicians were. The Carolina Chocolate Drops, as one example, were right on time, and are probably young enough that they can look on this freshly, with forward motion.

I this whole banjo thing adds an interesting dimension to our recent conversations as a country (and as mudcatters), race-wise.

Fortunately, music is also the greatest and most pleasurable playing field (pun intended) we've got going for us, so that therefore the conversation can be civil, respectful, and even loving.

Dani (a.k.a. pollyanna : )


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Subject: RE: Review: Otis Taylor's Recapturing the Banjo
From: bald headed step child
Date: 25 Jan 09 - 08:04 AM

The book mentioned above may help with that, as that seems to be it's stated purpose from what I've read so far.

More will be revealed later as I get thru the book.

The Black Banjo Songsters cd from above may be something you want to check out. It has several tracks by John Snipes, and Dink Roberts who the author of the book believes is one of the oldest living(at that time,late 1970's) links to the traditional African/American banjo style.

I have a feeling the book and cd will go hand in hand as both reference each other.

BHSC


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Subject: RE: Review: Otis Taylor's Recapturing the Banjo
From: bald headed step child
Date: 25 Jan 09 - 08:09 AM

Cross posted with Dani there a little.

Yes the Chocolate Drops are a wonderful group and right now are #1 on my list of groups to watch.

If you want to talk about crossovers, take a listen to "hit em up style" on the Youtube. Just follow the link I posted above and then check the related videos.

They also have a wonderful web site that can be linked from the videos.

BHSC


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Subject: RE: Review: Otis Taylor's Recapturing the Banjo
From: matt milton
Date: 25 Jan 09 - 08:10 AM

I enjoyed parts of that Taylor album. The songs that were just Otis-and-banjo, or closest to that, were the most succesful for me. To be honest, I would have vastly preferred an entirely solo album - I felt the other instruments rarely added anything edifying, and I had a bit of a visceral dislike of his daughter's singing, which sounded a bit X Factor gospel for me.

The album's opening track is a real stormer.


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Subject: RE: Review: Otis Taylor's Recapturing the Banjo
From: greg stephens
Date: 25 Jan 09 - 08:13 AM

The ngoni, like the ukulele and the 5-string banjo, are examples of instruments that use re-entrant tuning. This term is used to describe the use of tuning that has the highest string before the lowest string, unlike a guitar lute or fiddle etc where you get to the lowest string first.The ngoni family of instruments, as far as I know, don't have the short high string, and neither do early American banjoes; that was a refinement added later by an American called Joel Sweeney, or so some say, though maybe he just popularised it. The history is extremely murky, as are most folk-related topics!


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Subject: RE: Review: Otis Taylor's Recapturing the Banjo
From: bald headed step child
Date: 25 Jan 09 - 08:15 AM

Maybe it's just me but I love Cassie's singing.

You might like her better on some of his other albums, as the little bit on the banjo cd is probably not her best.

BHSC


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Subject: RE: Review: Otis Taylor's Recapturing the Banjo
From: Amos
Date: 25 Jan 09 - 10:59 AM

The Carolina Chocolate Drops -- very, very good.


A


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Subject: RE: Review: Otis Taylor's Recapturing the Banjo
From: bald headed step child
Date: 25 Jan 09 - 02:08 PM

Yes. I love their music. And she is very easy on the eyes. It's very difficult to listen properly if your eyes hurt.

That's why I only listen to the Stones. (no vids) :}

BHSC


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Subject: RE: Review: Otis Taylor's Recapturing the Banjo
From: bald headed step child
Date: 26 Jan 09 - 11:51 AM

Just a note for anyone interested.

Ome banjo's has recently introduced the Otis Taylor signature model.

12 inch rim, rolled brass tone ring, scooped neck.

It's a real nice banjo, and can be seen at Elderly's web site.

It runs around 2 grand though, so it's a little rich for my blood, no matter how much I'd like to have one. Oh well.

BHSC


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