“‘Dawning’ has multiple meanings for me,” composer/guitarist Yasmin Williams says of her first song on Nonesuch, featuring Aoife O’Donovan on vocals, Kafari on rhythm bones, and Nic Gareiss’ percussive dancing and provides an early peek at her new album, which the label will release in early 2024: “the dawning of my professional music career and a new love in my personal life, the dawning sky that appeared when I first started writing this song, and me smiling to myself with dawning recognition that I get to create music that I love for a living and share it with the world. This song represents a major shift in how I approach my music and expands the possibilities of what my songs can be.”
Composer and guitarist Yasmin Williams released her first song on Nonesuch Records, “Dawning,” on September 21, 2023. The track—featuring Aoife O’Donovan on vocals, Kafari on rhythm bones, and Nic Gareiss’ percussive dancing—provides an early peek at her new album, which the label will release early 2024.
“Williams … is one of the country’s most imaginative young solo guitarists,” says the New York Times. “[Her] radiant sound and adventitious origins have made her a key figure in a diverse dawn for the solo guitar.”
Williams, who recently was invited to join the Indigo Girls on their summer tour, has received critical acclaim from outlets such as NPR Music, which named her its Breakthrough Artist of 2021, saying: “Yasmin Williams treats her guitar like a playground. She taps the wood of the instrument, fingertaps the fret—on other songs, she taps dance shoes, plays the kora or a thumb piano while playing the guitar.” The outlet further noted that the “joy and possibility she brings to the guitar reminds me more of Eddie Van Halen than any of the other fingerstyle guitarists to whom she’s compared. This music goes back to Black blues guitarists; she’s reclaiming, but she’s also staking her claim at the same time.”
Williams says: “‘Dawning’ has multiple meanings for me: the dawning of my professional music career and a new love in my personal life, the dawning sky that appeared when I first started writing this song, and me smiling to myself with dawning recognition that I get to create music that I love for a living and share it with the world. This song represents a major shift in how I approach my music and expands the possibilities of what my songs can be.
“Composing ‘Dawning’ was a revelation for me in how significantly my life has changed in the last few years, both professionally and personally, and signing with Nonesuch Records exemplifies these changes in the best way possible,” she continues. “I’m super honored to be working with such an outstanding, well-respected label and to join their exceptional artist roster. I’m equally grateful to Aoife O’Donovan, Kafari, and Nic Gareiss for contributing their talents to this song. Working with a label and artists of this caliber is extremely exciting and I can’t wait to share more music, and a new record, soon.”
A native of northern Virginia, Williams began playing electric guitar in eighth 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 tenth grade, she had released an EP of songs of her own composition.
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 has drawn inspiration from other Black women guitarists such as Elizabeth Cotten, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Algia Mae Hinton. On her most recent album, Urban Driftwood (SPINSTER, 2021), Williams referenced 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 track.