Early Legacy Of The Banjo


Early enslaved African Americans existing in the South and Appalachia crafted banjos after instruments they had generously employed in their original homeland – Africa. Some students of music history call the earliest banjos “gourd banjos”. Examples include the akonting – a spike folk lute of the Senegambia Jola tribe and, the similarly sculptured xalam of Senegal which reportedly dates back to ancient Egypt.

The more contemporary banjo (shown here) was perhaps best popularized by minstrels such as Joel Sweeney in the early 1800’s. It is reported that Sweeney, who routined performed in “blackface”, learned his craft from lessons gleaned from slaves whose names and talents are not readily known. Today, the instrument can be routinely heard in various genres not limited to country, bluegrass or gypsy forms. Among the many world music groups that regularly showcase the banjo in their repertoire, is a relatively new ensemble called “The Carolina Chocolate Drops”. Listen for them on Higher Ground.

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