A Look Back at Smithsonian Folkways’ 2021 | Shore Fire Media

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13 October, 2021Print

A Look Back at Smithsonian Folkways' 2021

In 2021, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings released music that challenges pre-existing conventions of genre, race, activism, and more. This year's new releases and historical recordings represent cultures across the world, from Cambodia to Dayton, OH to the Bahamas, exploring issues such as the violent, complicated histories of Asian Americans and immigrants (No-No Boy’s 1975), the evolution and cultural impact of hip-hop across the past four decades (the 9-disc, 300-page Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap), the migration of bluegrass from Tennessee to the Ohio rust belt (Industrial Strength Bluegrass), and a profound rethinking of the American narrative (Lula Wiles’ Shame and Sedition). Read through the full list below to understand how these unique perspectives, along with many others, have contributed to the kaleidoscopic vision of music by, of, and for the people that Smithsonian Folkways has presented for over 70 years.  

The Bright Siders – A Mind of Your Own (January 22)

Founded by award-winning singer-songwriter Kristin Andreassen and child psychiatrist Dr. Kari Groff, the musical duo The Bright Siders writes songs about feelings and emotions for children of all ages. Ten years in the making, their carefully crafted, star-studded debut album A Mind of Your Own arrived just when the world needed it most, and as the importance of mental health resurfaces in the public consciousness. Joined by a slew of all-star guests including Ed Helms, The War and Treaty, Oh Pep!, The Hokes (a.k.a. Punch Brothers), Gaby Moreno, and more, The Bright Siders bring profound sensitivity and vivacity to songs about friendship, bullying, anger, acceptance of others, and coping with sadness and change.

Listen HERE

"Their undeniable musicality and clever writing merit universal appeal" - American Songwriter


Nobuko Miyamoto – 120,000 Stories (January 29)

Nobuko Miyamoto, who recorded 1973’s seminal A Grain of Sand: Music for the Struggle by Asians in America, is a foremother of Asian American activism. 120,000 Stories, named for the 120,000 Japanese-Americans who were put into internment camps during WWII, collects new music, recorded with GRAMMY-winner Quetzal Flores in Los Angeles, that speaks to issues such as Asian American stereotypes and the Black Lives Matter movement. The album also includes music from A Grain of Sand, recordings of her late-1970s group Warriors of the Rainbow, and performances from various stage productions throughout the past several decades.

Listen HERE

“[A] powerful collection of new songs, reinterpretations of old ones and recordings from across her career ... the songs speak to past and present struggles” - Nichi Bei


Quetzal – Puentes Sonoros (February 12)

Drawing from both their East L.A. rocker origins and their decades-deep engagement with the Son Jarocho, one of Mexico’s most prominent region-rooted folk musics, Quetzal establishes their own voice of the here-and-now. The album interlaces dreamlike audio memories of people, places, and experiences in the rural heartlands of Veracruz, Mexico, with a range of original creations—some reflective, some boisterous, and all a driving juggernaut of rhythmic forward motion. 

Listen HERE

"Quetzal’s creative harmonizations stretch from soulful ballads to exuberant dances, blossoming into a dynamic performance with a social point of view" - Intercultural Journeys


Industrial Strength Bluegrass (March 26)

Produced by icon Joe Mullins, Industrial Strength Bluegrass is the story of bluegrass’ transformation from a music to a movement, carried north by Appalachians seeking a better life in the booming post-WWII factories of Southwest Ohio. The 16-song collection presents Southwest Ohio bluegrass classics remade by an all-star cast featuring Country Music Hall of Famers the Oak Ridge Boys and Vince Gill, Bluegrass Hall of Famer Bobby Osborne, and many of today’s finest bluegrass and Americana artists including Lee Ann Womack, Dan Tyminski, The Isaacs, Sierra Hull, and more. The album recently won Album of the Year at the International Bluegrass Music Association’s awards, one of the genre’s top honors. 

Listen HERE

"‘Family Reunion’ [...] ‘poignantly tells of an ailing mother calling all her children home to say goodbye. Grab a tissue" - Bluegrass Today


No-No Boy – 1975 (April 2)

No-No Boy, A.K.A. Julian Saporiti, recorded his second album, 1975, as part of his Ph.D. dissertation at Brown University. Pairing vignettes of Asian-American musical history with Lou Reed, Jonathan Richman-esque, melodic psych-rock, the album is "A Trojan Horse for teaching Asian-American history" (NPR's Here & Now). Delving into the musical histories of the Saigon rock 'n' roll teenagers, Filipino cruise ship bands, punk rockers, and church choirs in Chinatowns that neither music history nor American history teach about, the album's twelve songs are guided by Saporiti's desire to "rethink what we think of as authenticity for popular American music," and to question what American folk music even is if it doesn't reflect all of America. Filtered through his perspective as a first-generation Vietnamese American who came of age in the folk, country, and indie rock scenes of Nashville, 1975 has garnered widespread acclaim from the likes of Pitchfork, NPR, World Cafe, The Daily Beast, KEXP, American Songwriter, No Depression, and many more.

Listen HERE

"One of the most insurgent pieces of music you'll ever hear" - NPR

"Insanely listenable and gorgeous" - American Songwriter

"A remarkably powerful and moving album" - Folk Alley


Lula Wiles – Shame and Sedition (May 21)

Shame and Sedition addresses our current political and social landscape, naming the tendrils of racial capitalism, misogyny, and colonialism that permeate the media and our lives. Lula Wiles' remarkable and poignant third album showcases songs that capture America’s reckoning around its own narrative, in conjunction with a new, harder melodic guitar and indie-influenced sound that reflects the rawness of emotions felt by an American generation fighting for change while the powers that be seem content with toxic stagnation. 

Listen HERE

"This collection is poised to take the group far beyond the traditional confines of acoustic singer-songwriter music" - Rolling Stone

"Like folk music at its best, Shame and Sedition is barreling towards change" - Paste

"A useful resource for modern living. Idealistic yet clear-eyed, reassuring yet invigorating, Lula Wiles has set the stage for better days" - No Depression


Joseph Spence – Encore: Unheard Recordings of Bahammian Guitar and Singing (July 16)

Encore is a new album produced from previously unheard archival recordings by the legendary Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence, made in 1965 at the height of his career. Spence’s radically innovative guitar style transformed elements of Bahamian traditional music into adventurous, joyful improvisations and influenced players worldwide. His powerful singing stemmed directly from the rhyming tradition created by Bahamian sponge fishermen early in the 20th century. The music is punctuated by Spence’s unique, sometimes otherworldly vocalizations including humming, short bursts of lyrics, and near-scat singing. Some of the recordings include singing by Spence’s sister Edith Pinder and her family members Raymond and Geneva Pinder. Producer Peter K. Siegel captured these performances at Spence’s only New York concert, at the performer’s cottage in Nassau, Bahamas, and at Siegel’s apartment in Manhattan.

Listen HERE

"More than half a century later it still sounds like nothing else in the world" - Bandcamp

“Spence’s joy is contagious, stirring up all your appendages to wave, flutter, stomp, and wiggle enthusiastically and as simultaneously as possible according to your abilities” - No Depression


Charlie Parr – Last of the Better Days Ahead (July 30)

Charlie Parr’s newest album, Last of the Better Days Ahead, is a collection of powerful new songs about how one looks back on a life lived, as well as forward on what’s still to come. Its spare production foregrounds Parr’s poetic lyricism, his expressive, gritty voice ringing clear over deft acoustic guitar playing that references folk and blues motifs in Parr’s own exploratory, idiosyncratic style.

Listen HERE

"An artist at peak poetic lyricism. They don’t make them like Parr anymore" - No Depression


The Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap (August 20)

A collaboration between Smithsonian Folkways and the National Museum of African American History and Culture, The Smithsonian Anthology of Hip-Hop and Rap is a landmark box set including 129 tracks spread across nine CDs (from songs by Run-DMC and Sugarhill Gang to Missy Elliott and Drake) and a 300 page coffee table book detailing the evolution of hip-hop over the past four decades. Featuring 11 essays, extensive notes on all 129 tracks, and contributions from prominent music scholars, authors, journalists, and artists such as Chuck D, MC Lyte, Jeff Chang, Dr. Lonnie Bunch, and more, the collection traces the growth of the genre from its South Bronx origins into perhaps the most influential driver of pop culture today, and also delves into topics such as entrepreneurship, fashion, graffiti, women in hip-hop, and more.

This project is the most recent installment in the Smithsonian African American Legacy Series, a collaboration between Smithsonian Folkways and NMAAHC to tell stories about music by African Americans and the experiences that inspire them. 

Purchase the box set HERE

"It tells the story of American history from 1979 to 2013 through the eyes of the young Black Americans who changed it profoundly" - Vanity Fair

"The Smithsonian’s book nearly bursts with appreciation for a sound born out glory and anguish" - Essence

"A relic of an era in which hip-hop had to fight to be taken seriously by institutions, whether they were museums, political bodies, technology companies or other creative industries" - New York Times


Dan + Claudia Zanes – Let Love Be Your Guide (September 10)

Let Love Be Your Guide is the first duo album by internationally renowned family musicians Dan + Claudia Zanes, written and recorded in Baltimore shortly after the couple moved to the city from Brooklyn at the end of 2019. They had been there just a few months when the pandemic hit, and in an effort to connect with others, they decided to record and share a new song online every day. Their popular Social Isolation series, which was later acquired by the Library of Congress, delivered inspiration and hope by bringing people together when we were forced apart, providing light when things were so dark for the artists and their virtual audience. The experience changed the couple as they realized more clearly what folk singers have always known: songs are here to inspire and uplift, but they’re also here to tell the stories and reflect the times, and these were indeed unprecedented and unforgettable times.

Listen HERE

“[Dan + Claudia Zanes] peel back the layers of humanity in probing, provocative ways” - American Songwriter


The Village Out West: The Lost Tapes of Alan Oakes (September 24)

This expansive new collection of music challenges the historical preconception that New York’s Greenwich Village was the sole epicenter of folk music in the 1960s, and brings to life the nearly forgotten but equally vibrant contemporaneous scene emerging in Northern and Central California. In this compilation are never-before-heard live performances by Doc Watson, Fred McDowell, Rev. Gary Davis, the New Lost City Ramblers, and Kilby Snow, alongside then-local and up-and-coming musicians Mark Spoelstra, Larry Hanks, Kenny Hall, Jim Ringer, and Hank Bradley, among many others.

Listen HERE

"A meticulously prepared album set [providing] a panoramic view of the folk music revival as it unfolded over more than a decade in Berkeley, Marin and Fresno" - San Francisco Chronicle


Kulintang Kultura: Danongan Kalanduyan and the Gong Music of the Philippine Diaspora (October 1)

A survey of music by Danongan "Danny" Kalanduyan, the only master Kulintang musician outside of the Philippines, as well as recordings of modern Filipino artists that cite Kulintang as an influence, Kulintang Kultura is divided into two parts and features over 100 minutes of music. Disc 1 features Kalanduyan's ensemble at the peak of their powers in a recording featuring a traditional Philippine repertoire. Disc 2 turns our attention to Filipino musicians in the diaspora who weave those traditions into electronica, hip-hop, rock, jazz, and other contemporary styles. 

Listen HERE


Chum Ngek and Sara Say with Masady Mani – Agangamasor & His Magic Powers (October 8)

Agangamasor & His Magic Power is the prequel to Reamker, a uniquely Khmer adaptation of the Indian Ramayana, one of the most ancient epic myths still known today. Reamker is the story of the hero, Preah Ream (Prince Rama), who is the earthly incarnation of Vishnu (Preah Noreay in Khmer), the guardian of the universe, and Agangamasor & His Magic Power conveys the mythological world as it was prior to the birth of Preah Ream. While this part of the Reamker is known among older Cambodians, until this production, it has never been retold in music and dance-drama.

Listen HERE


Norman Blake – Day By Day (October 22)

Guitarist Norman Blake is one of the unsung heroes of 20th-century folk music. With nine Grammy nominations and several dozen albums under his own name and with his wife Nancy Blake, his long and storied career includes stints with Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson, features on Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline, and performances on the seminal O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. Day By Day is a collection of single-take recordings of original and traditional tunes, ranging from solo guitar and five-string banjo to ensemble performances with The Rising Fawn String Ensemble, show Blake reaching back to the roots of country and old-time music. It is a rich, poignant send-off to one of folk music’s most enduring voices.

Pre-order HERE


About Smithsonian Folkways:

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, the "National Museum of Sound," makes available close to 60,000 tracks in physical and digital format as the nonprofit record label of the Smithsonian, with a reach of 80 million people per year. A division of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, the non-profit label is dedicated to supporting cultural diversity and increased understanding among people through the documentation, preservation, production and dissemination of sound. Its mission is the legacy of Moses Asch, who founded Folkways Records in 1948 to document "people's music" from around the world. For more information about Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, visit folkways.si.edu.


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