MISSISSIPPI STRONG: Jason Smith/Gourd Banjo
Mississippi lays a strong claim to being the Birthplace of America's Music. But there were individual elements that came together here to create the music that originated in Mississippi.
Jason Smith has fallen in love with the sound of one of those original instruments; the gourd banjo. In keeping the instrument alive, Jason is helping keep the heritage of Mississippi's music strong.
A short-hand version of Mississippi's contribution to American music would go something like this. Blues came from the Delta. And where the blues bumped into string-band music from the hills, country music was the result.
And add another layer of blues to country and rock and roll was born, all from little ole Mis'sippi. And Jason Smith is one of just a handful of artisans who recreate one of the instruments that is the grandparent to all of that music, the gourd banjo, original to Africa and brought here by slaves.
When the slave's banjo met the European's fiddle, all sorts of good things happened. Including what we now know as American Music. And as interesting as the history is, Jason makes and plays the gourd banjo because of the spectrum of different sounds they produce depending on how they are made.
"And the sound of the banjo, I think in just ANY banjo, is intriguing," said Jason. "And then the music. But the gourd it's such a, it's a beautiful thing. It's an organic shape, just bringing out that quality of the naturalness of the gourd."
Jason's first experience with the gourd banjo was when Scott Didlake from Jackson played a creation of his a couple of decades ago. Jason took lessons from Scott and not only learned how to play but also learned how to make them. Well, almost learned all there was to know, anyway.
"When he died I had known him maybe two or three years so there's a lot of stuff that I kind of didn't get," added Jason. "But a lot of the quote secrets, you know, I knew.
They look simple enough. A sturdy stick, stuck thru a gourd, strung with strings of some material married to a tuning device. But obviously, they're not that simple. So how long does it take to make one?
"I say the better I get at it the longer it takes," said Jason. "But people ask me and I would say probably anywhere from maybe actual labor hours, 20 to 40 hours."
Remembering our past, like the gourd banjo, and remembering the contributions that everybody brought to the table to create the whole that we are is what Keeps Mississippi Strong.
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