Rhiannon Giddens: Co-Composer & Librettist

Rhiannon Giddens

Classically trained musician Rhiannon Giddens uses her art to excavate the past and reveal bold truths about our present. A MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient, Giddens co-founded the Grammy Award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops group. Giddens’ lifelong mission is to lift up people whose contributions to American musical history have previously been erased, and to work toward a more accurate understanding of the country’s musical origins. She works in many genres ranging from folk music to ballet, and was recently names Artistic Director of Silkroad, where she is developing a number of new programs for the organization, including one inspired by the history of the American transcontinental railroad and the cultures and music of its builders. Giddens co-composed the music for the opera Omar – along with co-composer Michael Abels – and also wrote the libretto which is directly based on the autobiography of Omar Ibn Said – the titular character of the opera.

Omar is at once a story of one man and many. He is himself, trying to understand the shape his life has taken; he is the enslaved Muslim (of which there were so many more than we will ever know) seeking his community in any way he can; his is the eternal outsider. The fractured yet steadfast nature of the African diaspora struggling for survival in the Americas wraps around his journey, as I have envisioned it; the anonymous voices of the countless Black musical creators from my musical lineage are shot through a score that is nevertheless firmly situated at a crossroads of the folk and western classical traditions. Who was Omar? We will never really know.”

“This Omar is merely one of a thousand different possible interpretations of his writings and what we know of his life. Nevertheless, I heard an echo of his voice reaching out to me over the centuries – felt the spirits rise in me with every word written and every note composed. I felt the connection to a time that I cannot easily imagine; a time that tested the ancestors, gave no quarter, and took an unfathomable strength of spirit to survive. I hope this is merely the beginning of the artistic renderings of this remarkable man — let this not be the last operatic word on Omar, but merely the first. And I am honored it is so.” Rhiannon Giddens