I've always had a longing and deep desire to play the banjo. I never quite knew where this yearning to play this instrument came from. I was first connected with a banjo in my 30s. I even took private lessons at a shop called The 5th String in Sacramento. The cost was beyond my budget so I stopped taking the lessons and sold my banjo. But the instrument continued to call to me.
Every time I walked in a music store, I headed straight toward the stringed instrument section and searched out the banjos. I admired the sound and beauty. I knew one day I would again be re-connected with this instrument.
Then, in 2021, while doing research for a book I was writing on Black history, I came across some fascinating information. I could not believe what I was reading. How could I have missed this - not known this? I discovered that the banjo had deep roots in Africa. I discovered that the knowledge of the banjo was carried in the hearts and minds of those dear souls stolen and having made the Middle passage, then enslaved in the America's and Caribbean. They brought the skills with them across the Atlantic. They re-created the banjo and over the years, it was transformed into what we now see as the modern American banjo.
I finally had my answer to why I have always felt drawn to the banjo. It's in my roots. It's a part of my ancestry. But more than coming to know this truth, I came to know about the Black Banjo Reclamation Project through it's founder Hannah Mayree. I reached out to Hannah and we connected. Hannah informed me that they would soon be hosting a banjo making workshop in Sacramento. Woo hoo! Right here in my hometown. I was overjoyed. During the weekend of April 29, 20 & May 1st, I was blessed to attend that very same banjo making workshop.
Hannah Mayree states that, "The banjo is a cultural practice and tradition that originates on the African continent and has traveled, through the diaspora to different parts of the globe. We are gathering to engage in a practice that is meant to pass on cultural information, honor the ancestors and their musical technologies, and create an experience of healing and connection among members of the Black communities of today."
Over the course of those incredible three days, I picked up knowledge and skills that I will now be able to pass down. I built my gourd banjo with my own hands. The teachers there shared not only their knowledge of banjo building, but also imparted musical skills. They created a loving community that will forever hold strong bond and spiritual connection.
Thank you and bless Hannah Mayree, Leon Are Dana, Sule Greg Wilson, Yemanya, Lisa Mitchell and Ayula.