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Throw Down Your Heart: Tales from the Acoustic Planet, Vol.3 - Africa Sessions

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Album Review

On this third chapter in Béla Fleck's intermittent Tales from the Acoustic Planet series (that began in 1994 when he was with Warner Brothers), Throw Down Your Heart is actually a soundtrack for a film of the same name which he produced, about traveling through Africa, recording with many musicians from that continent as he searched for the origins of the banjo. As varied as Fleck's solo records and his albums with the Flecktones have been, this is easily his most varied and unusual offering. The itinerant superpicker African sojourns with film and sound crew in tow, to record with over 40 different groups and individuals in places like Uganda, Tanzania, Senegal, the Gambia, and Mali. These 18 tracks reflect the wide varieties of Fleck's experience to be sure, but far more importantly, the wildly diverse musical traditions there. Some tracks feature musicians fairly well-known internationally — such as D'Gary, Baba Maal, Vusi Mahlasela, Toumani Diabaté, Bassekou Kouyate, Oumou Sangare (his host for the Malian leg of the trip, etc) — in ensemble pieces as well as in intimate duets, and also with musicians largely unknown outside of their homelands. The latter grouping includes the amazing vocalist and kalimba player Anania, and a women's group from Nakisenyi who were the entourage's cooks, the Luo Cultural Association in Uganda, and the Muwewesu Xylophone Group, who play a gargantuan marimba that takes eight people to play as the townspeople join in on various flutes, fiddles, and percussion on a track called "Wairzenziante." It's not a cop-out to say that this is unlike any recording you've ever heard, and resembles less a Béla Fleck recording than one of amazing African music that he was fortunate enough to be able to produce and play on. The music here is simply enchanting, utterly delightful, and welcoming to the listener in all its guises. And it's consistent. No attempt was made by Fleck to create anything exotic. In fact, given that his greatest inspirations for making this record were the wonderful field recordings he'd heard of banjo music from Africa, he deserves credit for accomplishing his aim, and keeping his aim simple and folksy. The music on this set is transformative; it is not at all revisionist, nor a conscious attempt at some jive kind of colonial fusion. It is simply the record of one American musician meeting those of another continent for the express purpose of making music together, learning their tunes, and sharing the magic of creation and expression between them. As a recording, is quality, in sound and presentation, and the wonderfully detailed notes by Fleck annotating each track, are exemplary.

Customer Reviews

Throw Down Your Heart

Watched this movie today, bought the music tonight. Somerwhere in the dim corners of this story telling I could hear what amounts to the square root of American popular music. I was suprised to hear the beginings of blues between the lines of muslim influence.I particularly like the way Bela honered the traditions of the people by staying behind the music, instead of taking it over.I was moved by the emotion and importance the people put into their music.A very honest rendering put forth without the unnecessary pomp that famous musicians tend to lend to their projects.


Fleck neither culturally appropriates nor show boats. Just musicians coming together. Lovely and amazing.

Praise to Bela Fleck!

Finally saw the film last night. It might just possibly be the best film on/about/with music I've ever seen. Bela Fleck is an astonishingly humble devotée of music. He's also a stone virtuoso of the banjo who's managed to digest everything from early blues and work song to bluegrass, jazz, and world music of great range. If there's such a thing as Afro-Flamenco Banjo music, he can play it (see: "Mariam")
The film and album are great gifts to the collective musical soul of the world. Bela introduces us to some artists like his guide in Uganda and Ananias in Tanzania whose music is so fine, whose insights so penetrating, whose hearts so huge that I can only gasp in amazement and awe that such people exist. If not for Bela's efforts, I'd never have known about them. What's more, his film has completely changed my very parochial view of Africa as a place of unrelieved suffering, violence and poverty. Like the music, its reality is richer, more passionate and more nuanced than words can say.


Born: July 10, 1958 in New York, NY

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Premier banjo player Béla Fleck is considered one of the most innovative pickers in the world and has done much to demonstrate the versatility of his instrument, which he uses to play everything from traditional bluegrass to progressive jazz. He was named after composer Béla Bartok and was born in New York City. Around age 15, Fleck became fascinated with the banjo after hearing Flatt & Scruggs' "Ballad of Jed Clampett" and Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell's "Dueling Banjos," and his grandfather...
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