333

Bela Fleck: Throw Down Your Heart

Chris May By

Sign in to view read count
Bela Fleck: Throw Down Your Heart 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).

Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Rounder Records | Style: Latin/World


Related Video

Shop

More Articles

Read The Picasso Zone CD/LP/Track Review The Picasso Zone
by Franz A. Matzner
Published: February 23, 2017
Read The MUH Trio – Prague After Dark CD/LP/Track Review The MUH Trio – Prague After Dark
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: February 23, 2017
Read Les Deux Versants Se Regardent CD/LP/Track Review Les Deux Versants Se Regardent
by John Sharpe
Published: February 23, 2017
Read Molto Bene CD/LP/Track Review Molto Bene
by Mark Corroto
Published: February 23, 2017
Read Fellowship CD/LP/Track Review Fellowship
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: February 22, 2017
Read E.S.T. Symphony CD/LP/Track Review E.S.T. Symphony
by Karl Ackermann
Published: February 22, 2017
Read "Gin Fizz Fandango" CD/LP/Track Review Gin Fizz Fandango
by Mark Sullivan
Published: March 20, 2016
Read "Voyager" CD/LP/Track Review Voyager
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: February 29, 2016
Read "Star-Spangled Voltage" CD/LP/Track Review Star-Spangled Voltage
by Mark Corroto
Published: May 5, 2016
Read "Parrhésie" CD/LP/Track Review Parrhésie
by Geno Thackara
Published: May 17, 2016
Read "The Beauty of Disaster" CD/LP/Track Review The Beauty of Disaster
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: March 22, 2016
Read "Live In The South Bronx" CD/LP/Track Review Live In The South Bronx
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: December 31, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!