From the Balboa Theatre in San Diego, the Silkroad Ensemble, under the artistic direction of Rhiannon Giddens, presented their third performance of the “American Railroad” tour. Recognized as a singer, folk violinist, and bassist, Giddens is considered one of the most influential contemporary voices in traditional American music.
Thanks to the efforts of the La Jolla Music Society, Giddens was accompanied by the musicians who make up the ensemble, created by the virtuoso cellist Yo-Yo Ma in 1998. Each member of the ensemble is a virtuoso on their instrument. In this tribute to those who built the transatlantic American railroad, often under exploitative conditions, the Silkroad Ensemble performed works commissioned from renowned composers such as Cécile McLorin Salvant, Suzanne Kite, and their own member, Wu Man. They also presented new arrangements prepared by their director.
Rhiannon Giddens, known for her interpretation of ancient American folk music, especially the lesser-known African-American variety, led the multicultural ensemble with a serene, sometimes even meditative tone. The Silkroad Ensemble, in their characteristic style, provided space for each of their musicians and for unconventional instrument combinations, such as the Indian tabla played by the sole original member, Sandeep Das, the powerful Japanese percussion of Kaoru Watanabe, and Francesco Turrisi’s Italian accordion.
Alongside Giddens, violinist and vocalist Mazz Swift particularly captured the audience’s attention. In “Have You Seen My Men?”, a composition commissioned from composer Cecile McLorin Salvant for this tour, Mazz reached one of the evening’s highlights as the second voice. Then, with “Swannanoa Tunnel,” a piece arranged for a string quartet, Swift showcased her virtuosity with the bow.
Without forgetting the unifying essence that characterizes the Silkroad Ensemble, Giddens took the stage and reminded us that music and culture teach us that what truly matters is not our physical appearance or the color of our skin but our soul. In these times of global conflict, she called for awareness of this message.
Rhiannon Giddens, who just two weeks ago received the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for her opera “Omar,” performed at the theater with two recent Grammy nominations for her latest solo album, “You’re The One,” in the categories of Best Americana Album and Best American Roots Performance for the song “You Louisiana Man.” With these two nominations, Giddens has accumulated a total of ten, of which she has won two.