Bruno Bonte, Alison Brown, Shannon Carey, Éamonn Coyne, James Cramer, Stevie Dunne, Bill Evans, Bela Fleck, Jonas Fromseier, Stephen Guidry, James Harvey, David & Martin Howley, Lisa Leblanc, Adrian Mc Auliffe, Philippe Parant, Jean-Michel Roch, Lissy Rosemont, Enda Scahill, Olivier Sulpice, Damaris Woods, ... - banjos galore! It seems as if FolkWorld issue #49 is quite dedicated with several CD, book and live reviews to this often ridiculed instrument.
Probably only bodhrán jokes outnumber those about the string instrument of Afro-American origin. However, Seán Laffey of the Irish Music Magazine realized with some satisfaction: 2012 seems to be the year of the banjo and the instrument finally graduated to the official roster at the Willie Clancy week.
It has been a long way since African slaves introduced a skin head and gourd ancestor to North America, where soon fingerboard and tuning pegs were added. The minstrel performer Joel Walker Sweeney replaced the gourd with a drum-like sound box and included an additional short fifth-string. The five-string-banjo became the instrument of choice in old-time and bluegrass music, and the inventive Earl Scruggs the greatest three finger picker of the 20th century.
The banjo was also introduced to Europe by Sweeney's minstrel group. In the early 20th century the shorter-necked, four-string tenor banjo became a popular instrument. Its volume and timbre suited early jazz music. It also became an accepted melody instrument in traditional Celtic music. The late Barney McKenna, banjoist with The Dubliners, is credited with tuning the banjo like fiddle and mandolin.
So let us tell a banjo joke for the very last time:
Keep on folkin', T:-)M
Photo Credits: (1) Éamonn Coyne (by Jack Fossard / Festival Interceltique Lorient).