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Published: 2009/03/02
by Brian Robbins

Throw Down Your Heart: Tales From The Acoustic Planet Vol. 3 Africa Sessions Bela Fleck

Rounder Records

Listen: traveling to the far corners of the planet with Master-of-All-Things-Banjo Bela Fleck isn’t that unique of an experience – the man (and his musical brothers, the Flecktones) have been taking us to other solar systems for years now. But of all Mr. Fleck’s voyages he’s shared with us, Throw Down Your Heart may be the most interesting yet and it’s a package loaded with, well, heart from beginning to end.

The basic concept for the album is simple enough: Bela traces the banjo’s roots back to its origins in Africa, breaking musical bread with everyone from local villagers to world music superstars. Tracks were recorded in settings that ranged from a round stone cook hut in Uganda to a knoll by the mouth of the Nile; from the center of the town of Nakasenyi, where a 15’ foot-long marimba (requiring at least eight musicians to play it) straddles a pit dug in the ground, to Bela’s basement studio in Nashville, where a pair of amazing musicians from Madagascar jam with Fleck and fiddler Casey Driessen. Though Bela’s banjo is present in the mix at all times (and a great mix it is field recordings stand alongside the studio sessions quality-wise), you definitely get the feeling that he was as much a student and a spectator as he was a participant.

The banjo’s African roots are proven throughout the album in Bela’s hands, the instrument sounds perfectly at home, nestled amongst some wonderfully complex rhythms.

Let me share a personal listening moment with you: from the very first play through Throw Down Your Heart, I was taken with what I felt was the sheer joy of the song “Thula Mama,” a duet between Bela and South African singer/guitarist Vusi Mahlasela. Upon further reading, I found out that the translation of the song’s title means “don’t cry, Mama” and the song is dedicated to the female Apartheid fighters of the region. I was sobered by my discovery and embarrassed that my Western brain had boiled the song down to a happy little ditty. But when you read the lyrics all the way through and know that the choruses insist that “Tomorrow it’s gonna be better,” there’s something about the simple courage of those words and that buoyant melody that can’t help but give you hope in whatever way you need it however you need it. That’s a great piece of work in anybody’s book.

Thanks, Bela, for making the trip.

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