Performing in Sweden, Amythyst Kiah got a crash course in the differences between Swedish and American audiences.
“It didn’t matter if you were in a coffee shop or bar or wherever, every single person is completely silent watching you perform,” she said. “They don’t say a word.”
The audience will probably be a little more demonstrative when Kiah performs Oct. 6 at The Crown at Carolina Theatre in Greensboro. Her name might sound familiar because she performed at the 2018 North Carolina Folk Festival in Greensboro.
The singer-songwriter performs contemporary alternative and old-time music.
Born in Chattanooga, Tenn., Kiah joined a Celtic band after starting college at East Tennessee State University. Around the same time, she also started performing solo gigs.
Absorbing the influences around her, Kiah gradually came up with her own style.
“My music has been influenced by alternative rock, alternative singer-songwriter musicians,” Kiah said in a recent telephone interview from Johnson City, Tenn., where she now lives. “It’s been influenced by county blues, it’s been influenced by old-time ballads. ... It’s basically contemporary alternative music and old-time music.”
Kiah released an album, “Dig,” in 2013, followed by “Amythyst Kiah and Her Chest of Glass” in 2016.
Both albums reflected Kiah’s diversity — “Dig” even contained a cover of Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees” along with traditional and self-penned songs.
Recently, Kiah participated in a new project — “Songs of Our Native Daughters,” released on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, is a collaboration with Greensboro native Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla and Allison Russell.
Through songs such as “Black Myself,” “Slave Driver” and “I Knew I Could Fly,” the album explores issues of slavery, racism and misogyny from a black female perspective.
“That whole era of American history, people are almost vehemently opposed to discussing it in any way that’s healthy,” Kiah said. “What better way to bring it up than with song? Music has that way of just opening your mind.”
And Kiah said it is important to have that discussion.
“We talk about how horrible the Holocaust is. We can have that conversation,” she said. “We talk about how horrible the Trail of Tears was, and Japanese internment camps. But when it comes to segregation and slavery, people have a hard time wanting to talk about that.
“I think that hits a lot closer to home than the other things do,” she said. “If we can’t really and truly reflect on these things that have happened, then we are going to have this terrible communication about race in this country.”
Kiah said she and her “Native Daughters” collaborators hope to tour in the South in 2020. She is also working on a new album, “Wary and Strange.”
For now, Kiah said she enjoys the intimacy the smaller venues, such as The Crown, afford.
It’s a long way from Sweden, where, Kiah said, audiences were appreciative even if they had their own way of showing it.
“Afterwards, they had such thoughtful, wonderful things to say and they bought CDs,” she said.
“You get used to it and you realize, yeah, they’re loving it.”