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Abigail Washburn’s Banjo

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Abigail Washburn feels at home when surrounded by a sense of diversity, and thus, loves coming to Melbourne.

Washburn grew up playing at a culturally mixed school outside of Washington DC where she got to make friends from all different backgrounds. When she was older she was forced to move to a very white, upper-middle-class suburb and suddenly felt out of place, despite being surrounded by other white all-American girls.

“That was the first time I realised I was white and that there was all these repercussions of being white and wealthy, things that I didn’t necessarily like being associated with,” says Abigail. “I had culture shock because I thought ‘I look like all these people, but I don’t think like them’”.

University was another change and Abigail found herself doing a variety of interesting projects, meeting different people again and practicing Tai Chi in a community centre. This was her first exposure to Chinese cultural practices and she slowly found herself becoming obsessed with the richness and breadth of it.

Abigail picked up Chinese as a subject at university, got the chance to go abroad through her studies and later set her mind on being a lawyer in China. Through judicial reform Abigail planned to alter Chinese-US relations for the better. However, as discussed in her popular TED talk , she ended up doing so through playing the banjo.

When Washburn picks up her instrument, which she relates so intrinsically to America, and plays a heartfelt song in Mandarin. “There are some people quite surprised,” she laughs. “It doesn’t fit into everyone’s motif of American blue grass and old time. But things can go to together as long as you have a brain and a heart for that.”

Instead of giving the world another lawyer, Washburn is helping lessen the cultural divide between East and West through her melodic, soulful music. She will be playing in Newport and in New Zealand this month with her collaborator Kai Welch. We are sure we are her favourites, however, and when we cheekily asked she replied “Melbourne is a very special place”.

Abigail Washburn is playing at The Substation, Newport on Thurs 14 March. Tickets thesubstation.org.au.
To learn more about Abigail visit abigailwashburn.com.


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