“Her fingerstyle acoustic guitar-playing makes one of popular music’s most familiar instruments
sound new.” – Paste Magazine
A native of northern Virginia, Yasmin Williams, now 26, began playing electric guitar in 8th grade after she beat the video game Guitar Hero 2 on expert level. Initially inspired by Jimi Hendrix and other shredders she was familiar with through the game, she quickly moved on to acoustic guitar, finding that it allowed her to combine fingerstyle techniques with the lap-tapping she had developed through Guitar Hero, as well as perform as a solo artist. By 10th grade, she had released an EP of songs of her own composition, Serendipity (2012). Deriving no lineage from “American primitive” and rejecting the problematic connotations of the term, Williams’ influences include the smooth jazz and R&B she listened to growing up, Hendrix and Nirvana, go-go and hip hop. Her love for the band Earth, Wind and Fire prompted her to incorporate the kalimba into her songwriting, and more recently she’s drawn inspiration from other Black women guitarists like Elizabeth Cotten, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Algia Mae Hinton. On Urban Driftwood (2021), her stellar second album, Williams references the music of West African griots through the inclusion of kora (which she recently learned) and by featuring the hand drumming of 150th generation djeli of the Kouyate family, Amadou Kouyate, on the title. Though the record is instrumental, its songs follow a narrative arc of 2020, illustrating both a personal journey and a national reckoning, through Williams’ evocative, lyrical compositions.