Acclaimed British-Canadian Fiddler Saskia Tomkins Traces Family Journey, Addresses Race and Identity In Partnership with UK-Based Mixed Museum
Kansas City, MO (June 6, 2022) – Folk Alliance International (FAI), the foremost global nonprofit for folk music, has unveiled its 2022 Artist in Residence (AIR) project, a commissioned piece focused on race and identity that partnered British-Canadian multi-instrumentalist Saskia Tomkins with The Mixed Museum in London, England. The final multi-media composition entitled Mixed Messages was recently unveiled during the 34th annual Folk Alliance International conference in Kansas City, USA.
The video for Mixed Messages (the 2022 Artist in Residence project) can be found online at folk.org/programs/artist-in-residence
Created to foster cultural cross-pollination, diversify audiences, and nurture artistic growth, the AIR program pairs folk musicians with institutions and community organizations through innovative partnerships. Past projects have paired artists with UNESCO, the WWI Museum, Topeka Correctional Facility, KCPD, Kansas City Ballet, and the International Rescue Committee.
For this year’s project, Tomkins, a master of violin/fiddle, viola, cello, and nyckelharpa and All Britain Champion Irish Fiddler, composed an instrumental piece weaving Roma, traditional fiddle, and blues elements to accompany a narrated photo/video essay exploring her family’s search to find her grandfather – a segregated African-American G.I. forbidden to marry his white girlfriend and required to return to the US while his daughter was twice placed in an orphanage as part of England’s buried and rarely-discussed “Brown Babies” era.
Celebrating its tenth anniversary as a nonprofit seeking to preserve and share the history of ethnic minority presence and racial mixing in Britain, The Mixed Museum had already featured Tomkins’ mother, one of the approximately 2000 children who were born to Black G.I.s and white British women during WW2, in an award-winning exhibition.
The seven and a half minute video weaves Tomkins’ spoken word with original fiddle music and images of her family and forebearers. At the start of the work, she observes, “I feel like I’m wearing a disguise that I can’t remove at will…. I have a disconnect between me and the color of my skin. Looking in the mirror, even now, I am surprised at what I see; my skin is brown.”
She tells the story of her African American grandfather Calvin, whom she never met, and her white grandmother Sylvia. The two met at a dance during an air raid blackout during World War II. A romance blossomed and in time Sylvia gave birth to Tomkins’s mother, Susan-Anna. By U.S. and U.K. customs and explicit laws, Calvin and Sylvia were forbidden from marrying and he was forced to return to the U.S.,forbidden from adopting his new daughter who was placed in a children’s home, with “Half-Caste” written on an index card in her file.
Sylvia died of Alzheimer’s before being able to provide more details of their story, so Susan-Anna asked the U.S. government for Calvin’s records and received a package with paperwork Tomkins decribes as “life-changing”. Calvin’s grown daughter and granddaughter then traveled to Boston, met with relatives for the first time, and learned that he had also been a visual artist, like Susan-Anna, who was a painter.
Tomkins ends the film by saying, “as I laid flowers on my grandfather’s grave, I felt a tangible shift of self and identity. There’s something really settling about knowing your roots, knowing how you fit into the world, and watching intergenerational wounds heal. Who am I? I am enough!”
Of the AIR project and process Tomkins remarked, “As a mixed-race person who has been in this scene for many years, I have experienced discrimination against myself for the music I play based on the colour of my skin and people’s expectations, and I know I am not alone in this experience. What an honour to be given the space to share my story, which is a common one but not often heard, I think it’s one that many people will relate to. I didn’t realize what a huge emotional journey it would entail. There has been a lot of reflection and healing in my family this year.”
2022 Artist in Residence VIDEO
Saskia Tomkins website and Photo (credit: Steáfán Hannigan)
The Mixed Museum website and Logo
Folk Alliance International website and Logo
FAI publicist – Nick Loss-Eaton: firstname.lastname@example.org / 718-541-1130
FAI Communications Director – Marisa Kolka: email@example.com
Mixed Museum – Dr. Chamion Caballero, Director: firstname.lastname@example.org
About Folk Alliance International
Folk Alliance International (FAI) was founded in 1989 to connect folk music leaders aiming to sustain the community and genre. Today FAI is the leading international voice for folk music with a network of more than 3,000 members: a worldwide community of artists, agents, managers, labels, publicists, arts administrators, venues, festivals, and concert series presenters.
From its U.S. headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri, FAI produces the world’s largest conference for the folk music industry, the International Folk Music Awards (IFMAs), an Artist in Residence program, the Folk ExChange market development program, the Ethno USA gathering (on behalf of JM International), community outreach, and a Finest Folk concert series.
FAI values diversity, equity, inclusion, and access, strives to ensure gender parity in all its programming, celebrates multiple languages and cultures, and actively welcomes participation from marginalized, disenfranchised, and underrepresented communities.
FAI defines folk broadly as “the music of the people” (reflective of any community they are from), and programs a diverse array of sub genres including, but not limited to, Appalachian, Americana, Blues, Bluegrass, Celtic, Cajun, Global Roots, Hip-Hop, Old-Time, Singer-Songwriter, Spoken Word, Traditional, Zydeco, and various fusions.
About Saskia Tomkins
Saskia Tomkins is an English-born master of violin/fiddle, viola, cello, and nyckelharpa based in Ontario, Canada. She is classically trained with a folk background, holds a B.A. (Hons) in Music (Jazz), and won the All Britain Champion Irish Fiddler Award. She has appeared with countless artists including The Chieftains and she is credited with developing the celtic elements of the Broadway hit “Come From Away.” She performs solo, with multiple ensembles, and is part of several orchestras.
About the Mixed Museum
The original Mix-d Museum website was originally founded as a means to share more widely and permanently the findings of small British Academy-funded research project undertaken in 2007-2008 by academics Dr Chamion Caballero and Dr Peter Aspinall into official accounts and firsthand experiences of racial mixing in 20th century Britain. While the initial research findings inspired and formed the foundations of the 2011 BBC2 series Mixed Britannia, it was clear that although the broadcast medium was a very successful dissemination route, it was nevertheless a temporary and partial one.
Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, The Mixed Museum is a non-profit organization based in London England which seeks to preserve and share the history of Black, Asian, and wider ethnic minority presence and racial mixing in Britain. The museum’s “Brown Babies” exhibition exploring stories of children born to black G.I.s and white women in the Second World War was honored with a Museums Association 2021 Museums Change Lives award.