Learn How

We need your help in 2018

Support All About Jazz All About Jazz is looking for readers to help fund our 2018 projects that directly support jazz. You can make this happen by purchasing ad space or by making a donation to our fund drive. In addition to completing every project (listed here), we'll also hide all Google ads and present exclusive content for a full year!

333

Bela Fleck: Throw Down Your Heart

Chris May By

Sign in to view read count
An exemplary adventure in cross-cultural music making, banjoist Béla Fleck's Throw Down Your Heart deserves every bit of hyperbole that is going to be thrown at it. The third volume in Fleck's Tales From The Acoustic Planet series, it's subtitled "Africa Sessions" and finds him in East and West Africa, mostly on field recordings or in improvised studios, playing with musicians from Mali, Madagascar, Tanzania, Uganda, Senegal, South Africa, Cameroon and Gambia. It's simply sublime.



Though the cast includes international stars—singers Oumou Sangare and Baaba Maal, kora player Toumani Diabate, n'goni player Bassekou Kouyate—most of the musicians are unknown outside their own countries, let alone outside Africa. But Fleck chose his collaborators well, and the album's 73-minute playing time is close packed with virtuosity and invention.



To make it, Fleck had to put his money where his mouth was. In the late fall of 2004, Sony, who had been negotiating to release the album, looked at the budget and pulled out. Plans for the trip—taking in six weeks of auditioning and recording, and including in the entourage filmmaker Sascha Paladino (Fleck's brother) and ace Nashville studio engineer Dave Sinko—were well advanced. Fleck decided to self-finance and the trip took place, as scheduled, late January through early March of 2005.



Albums bringing American and African musicians together aren't new, but Throw Down Your Heart is a uniquely successful one. Its roots lie not in singer Paul Simon's Graceland (Warner Bros, 1986), but in John Lomax's field recordings in American blues country in the 1930s—this time with the musicologist participating in the music.



The banjo, of course, is essentially an African instrument, created in the US by slaves taken from Africa—its blueprint is still alive and well in 2009 in Gambia, where it's known as the akonting—and its percussive, "dirty" tonality is wholly at one with African acoustic roots music. Any doubts about the instrument's origins are dispelled on "Ajula/Mbamba," on which Fleck jams with a Gambian akonting group. Here, as throughout the album, the banjo fits like a glove.



Most of the 17 tracks are jams, and that's one of the album's strengths. To call the performances "collaborations" suggests a degree of preplanning which wasn't at work. Instead Fleck pitched up somewhere, checked out the local talent, set up the mikes and played, mostly using local material (the title track is the sole Fleck-only composition). Along the way, especially in East Africa, he meets styles and instruments little-known even in world music circles; three tracks with Ugandan and Tanzanian lyre players are amongst the ear-opening delights.



But every track is a gem. Throw Down Your Heart is a masterpiece not to be missed.


Track Listing: Tulinesangala; Kinetsa; Ah Ndiya; Kabibi; Angelina; D'Gary Jam; Throw Down Your Heart; Thula Mama; Wairenziante; Buribalal; Zawose; Ajula/Mbamba; Pakugyenda Balebauo; Jesus Is The Only Answer; Matitu; Mariam; Djorolen; Dunia Haina Wema/Thumb Fun.

Personnel: Béla Fleck: banjo; Nakisenyi Women's Group: vocals (1); D'Gary: guitar (2, 6); Xavier-Martial Francois: percussion (2, 6); Casey Driessen: fiddle (2, 6); Oumou Sangare: vocal (3, 6, 17); Souleymane Sidibe: karagnan (3); Zoumana Tereta: sokou (3, 10); Benogo Diakite: kamala n'goni (3); Sekou Bah: bass (3); Sekou Diabate: djembe (3); Nabintou Diakate: backing vocal (3); Toumani Diabate: kora (3, 6); Anana Ngoglia: vocal and thumb piano (4, 6, 18); Lua Cultural Association: lyres (5); Brian Siskind: swells (6); Haruna Samake: kamala n'goni (6, 7); Madou Sanogo: djembe (6, 7); Habib Sangare: bolon (6, 7); Bassekou Kouyate: n'goni (6); Khalifan Matitu: marimba (6, 15); Yoro Cisse: on njurkle (6, 10); Richard Bona: electric bass (6); Jojo Kuo: drums (6); Afel Bocum: vocal (6, 10), guitar (10); Baaba Maal: vocal (6); Vusi Mahlasela: guitar (8), vocal (6, 8); Abou Coulibazy: calabash (6, 17); Muwewesu Zylophone Group: wood xylophones (9); Hama Sankare: calabash (10); Barou Diallo: bass (10); The Zawose Family: lyres and vocals (11); The Jatta Family: akontings (12); Warema Masiaga Cha Cha: lyre and cymbal (13); Ateso Jazz Band: thumb pianos and vocals (14); Fadhili Bbata: percussion (15); Djelimady Tounkara: guitar (16).

Title: Throw Down Your Heart | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Rounder Records

Tags

Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read OR CD/LP/Track Review OR
by Geno Thackara
Published: January 18, 2018
Read The Songbook Project CD/LP/Track Review The Songbook Project
by Don Phipps
Published: January 18, 2018
Read Solo a Genova CD/LP/Track Review Solo a Genova
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: January 18, 2018
Read Reaching Out CD/LP/Track Review Reaching Out
by Mark Corroto
Published: January 18, 2018
Read Satoko Fujii Solo CD/LP/Track Review Satoko Fujii Solo
by Karl Ackermann
Published: January 17, 2018
Read when the shade is stretched CD/LP/Track Review when the shade is stretched
by Mark Sullivan
Published: January 17, 2018
Read "Fly Or Die" CD/LP/Track Review Fly Or Die
by John Sharpe
Published: July 10, 2017
Read "Nightfall" CD/LP/Track Review Nightfall
by Mike Jurkovic
Published: October 11, 2017
Read "Point and Line" CD/LP/Track Review Point and Line
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: July 7, 2017
Read "Visiting Texture" CD/LP/Track Review Visiting Texture
by John Sharpe
Published: June 20, 2017
Read "Autumn Tales" CD/LP/Track Review Autumn Tales
by Chris Mosey
Published: June 20, 2017
Read "Legacy: Neil Slater at North Texas" CD/LP/Track Review Legacy: Neil Slater at North Texas
by Karl Ackermann
Published: November 30, 2017