Folk singer Amythyst Kiah co-wrote three songs on Songs for Our Native Daughters, the brilliant 2019 album guided by Our Native Daughters creator Rhiannon Giddens. But she earned a Grammy nomination for her solo contribution, “Black Myself.”
The song, which also won Song of the Year at Folk Alliance International’s 2020 International Folk Music Awards, carries the cadence and repetition of a marching anthem—or a field-work song. With Our Native Daughters, the quartet of banjo-playing Black women, also including Birds of Chicago’s Allison Russell and Giddens’ former Carolina Chocolate Drops bandmate, Leyla McCalla, Kiah delivered a rootsy but rockin’ version. In her lyrics, she alludes to the grinding pain of oppression and the hypocrisy of oppressors. Then she decides to shed that weight and rise up to claim her equal place in the world. Backed with tight, gospel-tinged harmonies, banjos and Cajun accordion by album co-producer Dirk Powell, Kiah fuses her determination and pride into empowerment.
But Kiah wanted to sharpen the song’s edge, so she decided to record a different version at L.A.’s reincarnated Sound City Studios, with Tony Berg producing. Premiering today (Feb. 19), with a black-and-white lyric video, the track hints at what listeners might expect from her upcoming Rounder Records debut. But right now, during Black History Month, her intent is to focus more attention on America’s need for a racial reckoning.
The timing also connects to the Smithsonian Channel’s Feb. 22 premiere of the documentary, Reclaiming History: Our Native Daughters, which delves into Giddens’ use of folk music to reclaim Black history, especially Black women’s history, and explore its relationship to current experiences. When she gathered these likeminded women, they wound up expanding on her ideas and changing the album’s direction, creating 13 songs full of perspectives that need to be heard. (Air time is 9 p.m. ET.)
In “Black Myself,” Kiah’s exploration is personal—and more revealing than her past work in a significant way.
“‘Black Myself’ is the first song I’ve written that was confrontational,” she says in a press statement. “I’d always made it a point to sing songs that anybody could relate to, but this was something that had been welling up inside me for a long time.
“This song marks the first time that I really confronted my raw feelings about the history of my ancestors who were enslaved in the transatlantic trade,” she adds.
Her growls of righteous anger dig into an electrified R&B groove as she takes aim at “the hypocrites who used Christianity to justify these actions,” along with stubborn stereotypes that feed prejudice. But she also nods to the strength and courage of those who came before and pushed for change.
“The last verse is a kind of transcendence into a new plane where ‘blackness’ is no longer a curse but rather a source of strength,” she adds. “The reception of the song so far has given me hope that there are people out there who are ready to confront the shared trauma of racism, to look within ourselves and see how we might be perpetuating racist beliefs, and to do what is needed to create equality for all people.”
View the video below and stream or purchase the album here.
Photo by Sandin Gaither