Fleck to Answer Questions at Select Screenings (Heck yes)
Banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck recently released an album and companion film containing highlights from his six week trip around Africa where he played with musicians from Mali, Uganda, Tanzania, the Gambia, Madagascar, South Africa, Senegal, and Cameroon. The album, Throw Down your Heart: Africa Sessions contains 18 of the 40 tracks recorded on this trip, which had been an idea of Fleck's for years.
“I developed the suspicion that some of the greatest acoustic music on earth is hidden in the small villages in Africa. Somehow it didn't seem to be making it out into my world, and even when amazing field recordings were made, how could I find out about them?”
The CD liner notes contain additional information about the project as well as each track, and make the album well worth purchasing in hard copy rather than as an Mp3 download. In the liner notes, Fleck tells how he was skeptical of a proposal that the trip be about him teaching the banjo. Instead, displaying genuine curiosity, Fleck responded that,
“..[I]f I finally got over there, I would be all about playing with and learning from the local musicians, not necessarily teaching.”
The project features musicians who are well known as well as many who are obscure or relatively unknown on the wold stage. Fleck and crew held auditions for the project in several of the countries visited.
Toumani Diabaté, the virtuoso world-class badass powerhouse Kora player from Mali, plays on one track. Known for exploring beyond the caste restrictions of Malian griot music, Diabate has collaborated with musicians from various “world music” traditions. He partnered with blues guitarist Taj Mahal in the 1999 album Kulanjan, which also highlighted connections between blues and folk and their roots in African musical traditions.
As if out of some weird musical fantasy of mine, Diabaté and Fleck are scheduled to perform at this year's Telluride Bluegrass Festival. (Perhaps more of my musical fantasies will come true, like Henry Butler and Derek Trucks playing together.)
The project also calls attention to the fact that despite the strong association between the banjo and bluegrass music, the banjo is widely thought to have originated from West Africa instruments such as the akonting and the ngoni.
Thanks in large part to Nashville sound engineer Dave Sinko and documentary sound man Wellington Bowler, the sound quality on Throw Down your Heart is excellent, despite the fact that some of the tracks were recorded in somewhat remote locations.
It's hard to chose a favorite track, but here are three that stand out to me:
Throw Down Your Heart was released on March 3, 2009 and the film can be seen on different dates around the Country. Fleck and filmmaker Sacha Paladino (Fleck's brother) will be present at select screenings to answer questions. The New York City screenings run April 24-30th at the IFC Center and the movie's website indicates that both Fleck and Paladino will be present at select screenings to answer questions. The film comes to the Denver Film Society from June 18-25, overlapping somewhat with the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Check the film's website for show times in your town!
PS: One track on the album was taken from a live duo with Vusi Mahasela at the Boulder Theatre on the E-town radio show. Colorado, represent!
Update: 4/21/2009 - Fleck and Paladino will be present at the following New York Showtimes this weekend: Fri-Sat at 7:20 & 9:45pm, Sun at 2:40pm. Tickets available here.