World Bluegrass, Béla Style

Throw Down Your Heart Africa Sessions (CD: Rounder; DVD: Independent,)
Béla Fleck

By Martin Kasdan Jr.

Béla Fleck's banjo artistry is a given; so, too, is his eclectic approach to music. Bluegrass, both traditional and progressive, informs his background; jazz, fusion, and a wide variety of world music collaborations add depth and diversity to his playing.

With Throw Down Your Heart, Fleck journeys to the African countries of Uganda, Tanzania, The Gambia, and Mali to explore the roots of his chosen instrument. The DVD is a documentary which has won several awards, including the Audience Award at the 2008 SXSW Festival. It follows Fleck as he meets musicians who are masters in their indigenous strains of their cultures.

Humble almost to the point of being self-effacing, Fleck communicates with his instrument even when there are spoken-language barriers. While he may be a celebrity within American music circles, Fleck is just one more musician to those with whom he plays on his journeys. The DVD is a delight in and of itself, and serves as comprehensive background to the CD.

On the CD, Fleck almost painstakingly annotates both the concept and each of the eighteen songs. They range from the opening "Tulinesangala," with Fleck and a group of female vocalists from Uganda, to the aptly titled "D'Gary Jam," featuring a variety of artists from both America and Africa overdubbed onto a track originally recorded in Nashville.

It goes without saying that fans of Fleck will greatly enjoy both the DVD and CD; those who saw Jamey Stone's Africa to Appalachia project at the Kentucky Center, based on the same premise, will be delighted with this outing.

Throw Down Your Heart Africa Sessions Part 2, not available for review, continues the aural presentation of Fleck's journeys and is available through his website atwww.belafleck.com, or at www.throwdownyourheart.com.