Posted by Brooklynbanjoboy on Friday, November 11, 2022
Kristina Gaddy, the author of Well of Souls: Uncovering the Banjo's Hidden History, is a very sensible, careful writer with a deliberate way of telegraphing her key points. I remember a paper presentation she and Pete Ross did at a Banjo Gathering a bunch of years back, when they first threaded their way to the argument Kristina makes in the book. The paper reflected the same multi-source approach – books, art, museums, town folks interviews, on-the-ground inspections of stringed instruments that combined to yield a full-force presentation reflecting an energetic way of looking at a lot of evidence, a lot of arguments, a lot of perspectives. This book, too, is a considered effort that spanned many years and consider many forms of evidence, many artifacts of the histories and societies Kristina looks at with the goal of unfolding of the story of what the five-string banjo is, and what it was. She’s not looking at the banjo as a thing, but as a part of a context – so it’s not exactly an artifact of a world or a place. The banjo is more of an artifact of a set of shifting, swirling sociological, cultural, and political realities. That’s what I see in this intricate appraisal of contexts, and history. And to a certain extent, it makes both the argument over whether the banjo was an intrinsically American instrument, or an instrument shaped by African influences, seem far more one-dimensional than the complexities involved in fathoming “the banjo”,” as Kristina does so effectively in a book that is just loaded with facts, symbols, sounds – all with significant depth, hooked together meaningfully and memorably. Highly recommended.
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