Honoring the history and heritage of the Lowcountry’s Gullah communities, Spoleto Festival USA 2024 will present Lowcountry: South Carolina Music in the Gullah Tradition in the College of Charleston Cistern Yard on Sunday, June 2.
What is Gullah?
The Gullah are an African American ethnic group who reside predominantly in the Lowcountry region of the United States. Descendants of Africans who were enslaved on the rice, indigo, and Sea Island cotton plantations of the lower Atlantic coast, Gullah people came from the rice-growing region of West Africa. The nature of their enslavement on isolated islands and coastal plantations created a unique culture with deep African retentions that are visible in the Gullah people’s distinctive arts, crafts, foodways, music, and language.
Lowcountry is a requiem of South Carolina’s rich musical legacy and a vital cultural artifact made possible by composer and trumpeter Matt White, winner of a 2019 Guggenheim Fellowship Award. This debut album features a collective of Gullah singers and storytellers including Gracie Gadsen, Rosa Murray, Joseph Murray, and Ron Daise. A foray into southern folk traditions, Lowcountry archives Gullah stories and histories beside White’s vigorous 13-piece ensemble orchestrations.
Some of South Carolina’s finest musicians impart their seasoned facilities and heritage onto Lowcountry, including saxophonist Chris Potter, composer/trumpeter Matt White, and GRAMMY award-winning drummer Quentin E. Baxter (who is also a member of the Gullah-infused jazz ensemble, Ranky Tanky.) Baxter, a sixth-generation griot in the Gullah community, is a co-producer of Lowcountry.
Lowcountry’s 9-track output is triumphant, rhythmically vibrant, and carefully orchestrated. Featuring a full jazz band, a string section, three Gullah elders, and a narrator, Lowcountry forms a prismatic view of the vibrant Gullah culture.
How to Experience Gullah Culture in Charleston
Shop at Gallery Chuma
Gallery Chuma specializes in the art of the Gullah people of coastal South Carolina as visually portrayed by emerging artists and internationally recognized masters including Jonathan Green. Green is considered one of the preeminent artists capturing the traditions of African American culture. His work over the past twenty years has been exhibited at major national and international venues and featured as the official Spoleto Poster during two Festivals, 2004 and 2016.
His piece “Eyelets” was the official 2004 Spoleto Poster. The bold and innovative piece features a young girl, seen upside-down in the arc of a swing. Her eyelet-trimmed bright red dress and green hat dramatically fill the lower half of the canvas, with the sky and the fringe of trees above, and a house on the horizon in the distance.
Tour McLeod Plantation
Established in 1851, McLeod Plantation is an important 37-acre Gullah Geechee heritage site carefully preserved for its cultural and historical significance. McLeod Plantation was built on the riches of Sea Island cotton and on the backs of enslaved people whose work and culture are embedded in the Lowcountry’s very foundation. It is a living tribute to the men and women and their descendants who persevered in their efforts to achieve freedom, equality, and justice. McLeod Plantation Historic Site invites visitors to explore the lives of people who, though nearly erased from history, shaped Charleston’s complex past and the nation’s future.
The International African American Museum’s Gullah Geechee Gallery introduces Gullah Geechee history and culture. Through exploring themes including activism, organization, and cultural practices and preservation, this gallery examines the history of the community and contemporary issues facing Gullah Geechee communities. Featuring a full-size bateau (boat), a recreated praise house, and multiple media experiences, the Gullah Geechee Gallery provides insight into the dynamic cultural identity of the Gullah Geechee people and endeavors to define and demystify what it means to be Gullah Geechee.