We’re drawn to music because, like all good art, it expresses something that words alone can’t describe. Of course, most music has lyrics to act as subtitles for the story it’s narrating, but there are a few artists who still prefer their tales only be told sonically. One of those is acoustic fingerstyle guitarist Yasmin Williams, who will be a featured performer for the Creative Cauldron’s “Passport to the World” showcase this Friday.
The Woodbridge native came to playing guitar the way many of her generational peers did — through the video game Guitar Hero 2. After completing the entire game on its highest difficulty, Williams bought her first electric guitar and drew inspiration from the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana. Just over a year later she would transition to an acoustic guitar and was intuitively sought out for the fingerstyle, where the instrument is played while lying face-up on the musician’s lap.
“It was kind of more natural for me to play on my lap actually than upright,” Williams said. “I could tap a lot easier. And also I could do percussive stuff, which kind of came naturally to me, like hit the guitar and make different drum sounds and all that.”
These were decisions the 24-year-old made during her middle and high school years, showing some vision for where she would eventually want to go. Fingerstyle softened some of the hard rock edge she developed during her early years, pushing Williams in more of a folk-sounding direction. She released her first EP, “Unwind,” in 2012 while still in high school, debuting her unique approach to music in album form and showing Williams that it was more than novelty.
“I had an album release for [Unwind] and a lot of people showed up and I realized that it wasn’t just a gimmick just because I played differently than other people,” Williams said. “I realized that I could write good songs, and going to college writing a lot of guitar music and learning how to write better music definitely cemented that for me.”
Williams’ first EP featured notable songs such as “Guitka,” where she alternated between playing a miniature xylophone and tapping the guitar’s face with her right hand, while plucking the strings with her left hand. With her latest album, “Urban Driftwood,” she’ll be playing songs that she wrote using a double-neck guitar, with both necks featuring six strings and their own set of frets. Notable songs from the album include its title track that features Maryland-based musician Amadou Kouyate and “After the Storm,” a song Williams was inspired to finish writing following last summer’s racial justice protests.
Different musical instruments — some played by studio musicians, and others played by Williams herself — are also integrated into her performances, giving her songs a richer feel. During her performances, Williams uses a pedal to loop the music into her sets. The combination of sounds gives the music an almost lyrical quality.
“If I didn’t think of my songs as having lyrics, I use notes on the guitar to change the inflection of how I play. It’s the same thing to me,” Williams said.
Yasmin Williams will be performing for the Creative Cauldron’s all-virtual “Passport to the World of Music” series this Friday at 7:30 p.m. For tickets, visit creativecauldron.org.