Heard on CultureShift

This Detroit Musician Traces Her Musical Roots to the Antebellum South

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Image credit: Baher Khairy / Unplash

Naima Shamborguer will open the 41st annual Detroit Jazz Festival with a performance from her award-winning project “Sister Strings,” which traces the life and history of string instruments, voice and percussion in the Black community from slavery to today.

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String instruments like the fiddle hold a special place in Naima Shamborguer’s heart and family legacy. 

In tracing the roots of string instruments, the jazz vocalist and musician discovered an abundance of Black strings players throughout the South.

Her family connection to the antebellum era begins with her great-great-grandfather, who was an enslaved person before the Civil War and played the fiddle.

It stems into my family history because my entire family is music.” — Naima Shamborguer, musician

He used to go town to town playing the fiddle for parties,” says Shamborguer, whose great-great-grandfather later escaped slavery and fought for the Union during the Civil War. “[Post-slavery], I had an uncle who was a fiddle player and did the same thing. It stems into my family history because my entire family is music.” 

Click on the player above to hear Naima Shamborguer on her family’s musical legacy.

This history planted the foundation for the creation of Sister Strings — a project that mixes music and education to trace the life and history of string instruments, voice and percussion in the Black community from slavery to present day. 

Performances curated by Shamborguer and includes a bevy of musicians often focuses on everything from spiritual hymns to avant garde music and jazz.

There’s lots of rhythm and stomping,” says Shamborguer, who is a 2020 Kresge Fellow. “That’s why I named it Sister Strings, because people sang and danced to the fiddle. They made their own rhythm with their feet.” 

The award-winning musical project will take the stage on September 4th to kick off the 41st annual Detroit Jazz Festival. The set features multiple movements and is focused on the theme of justice. Shamborguer says the performance will, in part, pay homage to late Congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis.

Shamborguer describes the opening number as “one of the most beautiful arrangements” of the traditional Gullah hymn kumbaya. 

He was a very religious and kind man,” says Shamborguer of the late Lewis. “The feeling of the song, I’m sure he would be proud that we’re saluting him with that. The sound is exciting, very emotional and inviting to the listener.”

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Ryan Patrick Hooper, Host, CultureShift

Ryan Patrick Hooper is the award-winning host and producer of CultureShift on 101.9 WDET-FM Detroit’s NPR station. As a longtime arts and culture reporter and photographer, Hooper has covered stories for NPR, Detroit Free Press, Hour Detroit, SPIN and Paste magazine.

hooper@wdet.org Follow @HooperRadio

LaToya Cross, Producer, CultureShift

LaToya Cross is a Producer and writer on CultureShift with a passion for highlighting creatives using their platform to shape, shift and analyze society through an artistic lens.

Latoya.cross@wdet.org Follow @ToizStory

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