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Yasmin Williams

Yasmin Williams released her first EP when she was in the tenth grade. "It was a project for my music class," she says. Her high school in Woodbridge, Virginia, had a music technology program. "They had their own little record label. I stayed after school to record and mix the record, and I also did the album art." The EP, released in 2012, was titled Serendipity. Not bad for a kid who fell in love with the guitar while playing the Guitar Hero video game with her brothers. 


Growing up with four brothers (two younger, two older), Yasmin says music was a constant in her family. "We sang together in the car and in the house. We had a lot of song battles. We were exposed to a lot, music-wise, from jazz and hip-hop to R&B and gospel." She began singing in the church choir at age four. "I started playing in the concert band in the fourth grade and played the clarinet from that year through college." 


She begged my parents for an electric guitar and amp, then taught herself to play by ear. Yasmin's first guitar was followed by an acoustic guitar, then a bass, twelve-string, and classical guitars. 


Yasmin attended New York University, earning a Music Theory and Composition degree in 2017. "I played a few solo shows in New York, and that was a big learning curve for me. I played on campus a lot at receptions and other functions as well. The deans liked me."

She self-released her first album, Unwind, in May 2018 to critical acclaim. Her next album, Urban Driftwood, was released on SPINSTER in January 2021. The album is a look back at 2020. Finishing the songs during the Covid lockdown, she felt the weight of the social and political climate at the time. "I finished the album's final track, 'After the Storm,' feeling drained, but not wanting to become numb to what was happening in the world." While you might assume the album would sound heavy, the all-instrumental songs are surprisingly light and joyful. "I wanted the album to serve as a welcomed respite from 2020's unpredictable and sometimes demoralizing events."


When asked to describe her style of music, Yasmin calls it "folk adjacent, maybe a bit Americana. I don't feel that I'm tied down to any particular genre or tradition. I am open to all sorts of multicultural influences." Her playing style blends inventive fingerstyle techniques and lap-tapping, where she turns her guitar facing up and plays with it on her lap. She somehow creates a layered effect, with her fingers tapping a percussion beat as she plays. Jonathan Bernstein wrote about Yasmin in Rolling Stone: "When Yasmin plays guitar, she captures new possibilities and stories from the instrument."


Her playlist is eclectic, from jazz to old-time, with artists such as Doc Watson, Virgil Anderson, Christian Scott, and Emily King. 


Watching her videos makes it apparent that Yasmin is fearless. Growing up, she had no reference for guitar music. "I tried taking lessons because my parents wanted me to have structure. But that didn't last long - I wanted to do my own thing." She has an inquisitive nature, and because of that, she is willing to go out on a limb to try new things. There isn't just one way to play an instrument in her world, and her resulting sounds are hauntingly beautiful, mystifying, and full of joy.


Yasmin was eventually influenced by artists including Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, and Elizabeth Cotton, "my favorite guitar player ever. All are very experimental." That probably helped form her own unorthodox style of guitar playing. 


Yasmin also plays the kalimba, a type of African thumb piano, and the harp guitar. "Mine is a Timberline parlor-size harp guitar with six floating bass strings. I really like the sound of it."

In addition to her EP and albums, Yasmin has released five singles, including her newest, Dawning, released in September 2023. The single features Aoife O'Donovan on vocals, Kafari on rhythm bones, and Nic Gareiss on flat foot percussion. "The song came quickly to me," she says. "I knew I wanted bones on it. And I was excited to have Nic add the flat foot."

Currently in the studio working on her next album, Yasmin says it is set to be released in August or September of this year on Nonesuch Records. "This album has been a lot of work, as there are a lot of guest artists on it," says Yasmin. "It will have varying genres, from jazz to bluegrass to world music. I'm super excited about it."


When she isn't making music, Yasmin says she loves being outdoors. "I love hiking and tennis, and I've dabbled in rock climbing." She also loves to cook and bake. "I also enjoy making craft cocktails, and I've gotten pretty good at it." 



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