With its roots in West Africa, the banjo was re-invented by Africans in American and has since permeated contemporary society. To enslaved African people in a new land, it was used for everything from spiritual and sacred expression to personal introspection to rhythmic jubilee. "Keep My Skillet Good ‘n Greasy" was popular among African American musicians but the signature recording is by Uncle Dave Macon. Otis Taylor’s album "Reclaiming The Banjo" is perfectly titled in that Black Americans and anyone who honors the true spirit of the instrument and music of the African Diaspora people’s, has to dig deep to recognize that the banjo is tied to so much more than degrading lyrics and buffoonery. I take the liberty to sing and, if necessary, re-construct any song I feel reclaims the nature of Black music in it’s original context that from an Africanist expression would not, could not have manifest as it did in American. I salute you, people of all nations, colors and generations who bring back and reflect the dignity and contributions of the African musical presence in the Americas. –Just call me Ani
"Swannanoa Tunnel" Just call me Ani. Filmed on site by Joan Francisco. When I learned this song it move me so and I didn't know why. There is ample research about the history of the tunnel's construction. After looking into some of it I understood why I compelled to come here. The site calls for healing and song. The 1,800' long Swannanoa Tunnel runs between Old Fort and Asheville, NC. It was constructed by convict labor that consisted mainly of Black men imprisoned for minor crimes. Their forced and virtually free labor was arranged by bringing the prisoners from the East specifically to complete the project. A few women worked at the site as cooks. Out of approximately 500 laborers approximately 135 were killed during construction or trying to escape. 23 were killed in a tragic collapse in 1897. The risks to the laborers was known and their lives were considered expendable. When we traveled to Swannanoa and Old Fort, NC in August 2016, the path to the tunnel was officially closed for repairs. We actually met a woman who remembered when the trains carried passengers. She informed us that the tunnel is only used for freight trains now. We got as far along the path as we could when the sky began to change. As a soft rain fell, we realized our car was blocking a construction truck that just pulled up to the path. The driver was kind enough (or curious enough) to let me finish the song and I got in almost all of the verses. The words were assume to have been sung by the prisoners but this version was popularized by Bascom Lunsford.
-Just call me Ani