When you hear a banjo, what images come to mind? Maybe an old white guy plucking a tune on a sagging porch, or a river rapids trip that’s about to go terribly wrong? Those are valid associations, but there’s a lot more to the instrument, says Silver Spring-based musician Dom Flemons. In his performance at the 12th annual Mike Seeger Commemorative Old Time Banjo Festival at The Birchmere on Sunday, Flemons will trace the history of the banjo from its Afro-Caribbean roots to its role in the development of quintessentially American genres including folk, bluegrass, jazz, ragtime and beyond. Flemons, formerly of the Grammy-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops, gave us a glimpse into this humble instrument’s fascinating past and potential future.
You don’t generally see a lot of black banjo players.
You know, the banjo is an African-derived instrument. It started as a gourd-based instrument that was brought over back in slavery days, and it was something enslaved Africans had as a part of their culture. And then it developed from these varied instruments from across the continent into the banjo as we know it. So the banjo is one of the few instruments indigenous to the United States.