By Kimberly Shires
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Yasmin Williams is an acoustic guitar maven from Northern Virginia. Her music is a little classical and a little folk but fully and authentically Yasmin. Yasmin has released two albums, and there will be much more to come. Her first album was released in 2018, and her sophomore album, Urban Driftwood, was released last year under the feminist label, Spinster.
Listening to Yasmin is an experience. She uses the whole range of sounds offered by the acoustic guitar and seamlessly moves from what sounds like a meditative chant to much more percussive element. And don’t forget her brilliant use of harmonics to end cap her musical statement. Yasmin says of her own music, “It’s nice that it is accepted in various circles. I could go to a jazz festival and be fine and also go to a folk festival and feel fine.”
Speaking of folk festivals. Yasmin was invited to the mother of all folk festivals. She travelled to Rhode Island to play the Newport Folk Festival last summer. She was supposed to open the whole festival, but due to some rainouts, she ended up following Grace Potter on the main stage. Yasmin, still a little whiplashed from the weekend, told us, “There were a ton of people there. I was surprised they stuck around.”
As it turns out, she really should not have been so surprised. She received a standing ovation. Yasmin says, “I wasn’t expecting that, which made it even more overwhelming.” The Newport Folk Festival is hosted on one of the country’s most beautiful stages, overlooking the water with all of the sailboats and the exquisite Rhode Island summer weather.
Yasmin got the call two weeks before the festival inviting her to perform at Newport. That call was a dream come true. While many would feel the pressure crank way up, Yasmin got all of the jitters out during soundcheck. Just before walking out on stage for the real deal, Yasmin said, “I was thinking, what should I play first, like I was just kind of winging it.” The nerves were gone and she felt comfortable to walk out on that stage.
Yasmin started her set with a song that she was currently writing and improvised it right on the spot. Yasmin was so in the zone that she didn’t even notice the 25 photographers clicking away at her feet. After the set was over, Yasmin walked backstage for a good cry. Yasmin laughs, “I’ve never cried after a set. I cried so many times during those few days.” She continues, “It was a magical moment.” It was actually rather pivotal for Yasmin. Previously, she knew she wanted a career in music but after her Newport set, she felt for the first time, “I think I can do this.”
One of the great things about the Newport Folk Festival is that it offers a collaborative space for the artists to perform together. Yasmin got to play on Allison Russell’s set, who was headlining the event. If you have never been to Newport, the finale is a thing in and of itself. All of the artists join each other on stage for a massive sing-along. Yasmin got to stand elbow to elbow with legends such as Chaka Khan and Brandi Carlile. Yasmin shared, “I was way more nervous for that.” She was going on right after Yola and had to capture a completely different vibe. Well, she nailed it. Yasmin says, “I’m going to be 80 years old and still thinking about that. It’s crazy.”
Yasmin has been active in the scene for a few years, and her popularity is snowballing fast. It all started with a Tiny Desk Concert submission. She didn’t win, but NPR’s Scott Simon invited her to appear on the Weekend Edition NPR. Yasmin reflects, “The day that came out was just ridiculous. It went from zero to 100.” The album went from 4 million to number 6 on Amazon Music; this is otherwise known as the NPR bump. Yasmin added, “It got me shows and visibility, and it made me feel like music could be a career.”
Since then, Yasmin has garnered accolade after accolade, including Pitchfork, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. Yasmin jokes, “Instagram and Twitter were super late additions. I can remember the days when I had just 20 followers.” Yasmin has built much of her fan base organically through word of mouth and using the platforms available to her such as Songwriters’ Association of Washington (SAW) and Focus Music.
Yasmin majored in music theory and composition at NYU, where she studied modern classical music. Yasmin says, “Going to music school in New York was a great experience.” She continues, “It’s nice to have theory and ear training.”
Her recent performances include opening for Watchhouse, formally known as Mandolin Orange and sharing the stage with the Indigo Girls. On top of that, Yasmin has gotten some pretty impressive accolades from Uncut Magazine naming her as a breakout artist in 2021, and Guitar World named her as one of the best acoustic guitarists in the world. She was also featured on NPR’s Tiny Desk (Home) Concert.
Yasmin has an exciting lineup of tour dates in the coming months. She has a string of shows with fingerstyle guitarist Mike Dawes and Grammy-award winning Aoife O’Donovan, as well as appearances in the festival circuit at Back Porch Festival, Big Ears Festival, and Primavera Sound in Barcelona, Spain.
Yasmin’s next project is to write the score for an upcoming documentary. She was sought out specifically to create the score based wholly on her sound. Yasmin says, “Hearing my music in a film would be an absolute dream.”
Yasmin says, “Writing music is what keeps me consistently grounded and happy. If I can help spread that, it would be the best.” Her music is like petting a puppy and getting little puppy hugs. Yasmin laughs, “Who doesn’t want those?”
Kimberly Shires is a native of the DC Metropolitan area. Kimberly is a freelance writer, music degree holder, road bike warrior, songwriter, corporate ladder climber, and a Subaru driving nature enthusiast.
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