World & Latin

The Banjo: Out Of Africa


Otis Taylor and a few friends have set out to dispel the misperception that the banjo is a folk instrument that originated in the American South or Appalachia. Recapturing the Banjo, Taylor's new recording digs deeper into the banjo's past -- all the way to its roots in Africa.

The album features guest appearances by Guy Davis, Corey Harris, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Keb' Mo' and Don Vappie. If there's such a thing as a banjo virtuoso, all six players on this recording are it -- each using a variety of styles that have evolved since the 1700s, when African slaves first brought the music and the instruments of their homeland to the fledgling American colonies.

Davis' version of "Little Liza Jane" is probably the closest thing contemporary audiences will hear to a traditional banjo performance. Hart performs "Deep Blue Sea" in a modified traditional style, while Keb' Mo' plays with finger picks in a style reminiscent of the period where mountain banjo turned into bluegrass. Vappie plays in a more modern version of the New Orleans style of the 1920s. Other tracks pay homage to the work of such seminal 20th century blues musicians as John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and even Jimi Hendrix.

"I wanted to make an album that was historically significant," says Taylor, "but at the same time, I didn't want to make a record that that was too academic. It's not a history lesson that needs to be pushed in anyone's face. We just wanted to reconnect the music back to the people who brought it here in the first place."