Sometimes we need to go back in time, back to the beginning. The Carolina Chocolate Drops are one such portal to an earlier time, a time we might call simpler, when old-time music ruled the world. The Carolina Chocolate Drops are certainly rare. Old-time music isn’t playing too much on the airwaves anymore. When it is, it’s often older white folks doing it. So the young African-Americans in the Carolina Chocolate Drops stand out. In fact, the Carolina Chocolate Drops are one of only a handful of all African-American string (or jug) bands playing professionally today.
And they do it well. The Carolina Chocolate Drops are as at home on a stage before thousands as they are on a street corner in New Orleans or on a back porch in North Carolina. They’re also comfortable reimagining contemporary songs as beautiful arrangements that share that old-time style.
So for those still unsure, old-time music is a type of music that borrows from folk traditions of the British Isles, costal Africa, and Central and Eastern Europe. It’s music that’s traditionally played without amplification, so old-time musicians use acoustic instruments–guitars, fiddles, banjos, washtub bass, drums. It’s also communal music, often accompanying dancing of the square or flatfoot variety.
The Carolina Chocolate Drops originated in North Carolina, a state crossed by the Appalachian Mountains, a region known for it’s folk music, old-time and otherwise. Though that’s to be expected, it’s perhaps less expected that they’d have a song, “Daughter’s Lament,” on the Hunger Games soundtrack. Which I hear a few people went to see.
“Daughter’s Lament” is interesting, because it tells part of Katniss Everdeen’s story. That was often the function of folk music in places like the Appalachian Mountains, France, and Guinea, as it was in District 12 in The Hunger Games. (District 12 is understood to be located around the Appalachian Mountains.) That tradition dates far back, when family stories and tall tales were passed along through the oral tradition, rather than written down in books. Back in a time that was before most people even knew how to read or write. When history existed in stories and songs.
That tradition was also a communal form of entertainment–one for passing along stories, yes–but also to dance and sing along to. So perhaps is no wonder that when the Carolina Chocolate Drops come on my toe starts tapping and soon I’m singing along, like the words and melody had been inside me since I was born.