Updated: Jul 4, 2022
It was meant to be a special day out by the house of legendary fiddler Joe Thomson, the last in a long series of interviews for Black Fiddlers, the documentary about a United States tradition born in Africa, that pretty soon found us deep into a rabbit-hole of black-folklore -music and food- a place where north and south, east and west strive to complete the untold story of black fiddling, from the early days of colonial Williamsburg to the Carolina Chocolate Drops.
It was a long-planned meetup in Mebane, one that nearly shipwrecked when the alternative became a talking head interview with Rhiannon Giddens in Manhattan. The latter would not work, the idea of meeting with Giddens in the lobby of a hotel during her US tour was incompatible with my documentary tradition. The encounter between the musician and the camera had to take place where it all started, at Joe Thomson’s home in Mebane, North Carolina.
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Arrangements were made, and Rhiannon was able to fly from Ireland to meet with us and with fiddler Justin Robinson, friend, and co-founder of the Chocolate Drops. Justin and Rhiannon go way back and when they start playing together it is easier to understand how the river flows, how their music happens when there is communion which is another way of saying community.
They arrived on set on time at 10:30, on Tuesday. Boone, Joe Thomson’s grandson had been cooking all night for the occasion. A feast of soul food, true to Bonne’s nature and loyal to his heritage. I wish I could describe it better, but for that I’m adding a short video in which the chef himself explains the did.
This was the first time that Rhiannon and Justine had been back to the place where it all started, where they met Joe and learned from Joe about the music that pretty much defines who they are today. As griots they are, they told us how it was that all began in the front porch of that same house where we were filming the last interview for Black Fiddlers. They also played and switch instruments showing how the music flows not that through them but between one another.
After a superb meal, prepared the night before by Joe’s grandson, he headed to Mebane’s Park, site of a sculptural memorial to Joe and Odell Thomson. That was another special moment, one that might even repeat itself when and if -COVID permits- the memorial is finally dedicated with an audience, with the peoples of Mebane who still remember Joe and Odell with sincere love and devotion.
As for Black Fiddlers and me, what can I say… It was one magnificent day in good company, and my film has now all it needs to pull it through the final stages of the editing experience. See you all in the other side, in a festival or two.