‘The ancient Irish bodhran was invented sometime in the fifties’. Well, so Francesco Turrisi , onstage with Rhiannon Giddens, told a capacity Usher Hall audience in a bitterly cold, Edinburgh last night. It was only one line from the humorous badinage between the pair on carbon dating the banjo (coloured folk instrument ?) to mid 19th century and Turrisi’s tamburello which had been played in Arabia from 5000 BC, he claimed. The Edinburgh audience rapidly warmed to this classically trained pair, giving virtuoso performances on a range of instruments, Giddens’ soaring vocals and bass accompanist, Jason Sypher. To establish the tambourine as a serious , musical instrument was his mission for the evening, we were informed by the joyously erudite Turrisi; well he certainly convinced me. The versatility of Giddens was illustrated by her wonderful capture of the great Ethel Waters classic, redolent with the racial tones of those Vaudeville times, ‘ Underneath the Harlem Moon’ and a reminder of her classical roots with an aria , ‘Black Swan’, from Menotti’s opera, ‘The Medium’. Her banjo and violin skills emphasised the mesmerising talent of this artist.
This was a truly revelatory pairing between these two musical tribunes and they complemented each other superbly. It emphasised too that music is a universal language that has long existed and is perpetuated by committed people and not alone by record labels. They skilfully established the absolute requirement for artistic freedom. This was a convincing liberality of music without borders which both performers have made their enduring aim.
It was not merely pure joy to be present but an education in its truest sense.