Tennessee Singer Amythyst Kiah released her new single “Black Myself” this year and it made some serious waves. The song is strong and serves as a mission statement for Kiah’s work so far. “They stare at me when I pick up the banjo because I’m black myself.” It’s a striking lyric. A black woman ostracized for playing an instrument of African origin associated with white culture. Amythyst Kiah is on the come-up, and I actually had the opportunity to see her live in Raleigh before the world ended. So let’s take the time to get to know this bold new talent.
Black Country/folk singers are in vogue right now, but the genre still has enormous barriers to entry for artists of color, and doubly so for a gay black woman working in the most traditional styles of folk music. However, there’s more to Kiah than just the novelty of a black bluegrass enthusiast. She also has songwriting chops and a voice to match the heavyweights of indie. Her music checks all the boxes for indie folk: deeply personal lyrics, complex guitar arrangements, a smoky beautiful voice. But it’s her influences that set her apart, drawing from old time folk, country, and blues more than Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
Her live shows are an engaging, if low-key, experience. Eschewing theatrics or hype, Kiah invites the listener into her world, sharing stories and the songwriting process. She creates an authentic experience, rather than a strictly entertaining one. Her band also seems to workshop her new material extensively on the road. She played “Black Myself,” in late 2019 when I saw her live, more than a year before its release as a single, and the song has seen some fairly significant structural changes since then. When the world finally opens back up, I recommend her show for anyone seeking a more relaxed and understated concert experience.