Music review:Throw down your heart: tales from the acoustic planet. Vol. 3, African sessions – Bela Fleck
Anyone who saw the engrossing documentary on PBS some months ago or packed into the Belcourt Theatre one hot Sunday evening for a one time showing (with a special appearance by Bela) of Throw Down your Heart knows what this is all about.
This is the soundtrack that resulted from the ambitious trip made by Bela Fleck to several African countries in early 2005 to, essentially, “bring the banjo home” and jam with many outstanding musicians and groups in places like Uganda, Tanzania, Madagascar and Mali.
I’ve always enjoyed the purity and spirit of various African musical styles, and my Hi life compilations and King Sunny Ade juju recordings prepared me somewhat, but this is some really far-reaching, varied and impressive music! Eighteen tracks, many featuring serious polyrhythms, djembe drums, various stringed instruments along with possibly the thumb piano or even a giant wooden miramba comprise this soundtrack. Vocalists can be anyone from Oumou Sangare to a group of villagers.
Some of my favorites are the funky, bass heavy D’Gary Jam and the sublime title track which features raga like drones, ngoni (the banjo of Mali) runs and Bela’s intricate picking. What a tour de force! Zawose features some amazing gogo singing styles by an entire family that may sound jarring at first but is really unique. The song Mariam features phenomenally fast African guitarist Djrlimady Tounkara in a duet of sorts with Bela. Wow!
Overall, the first several tracks drew me in with really interesting and varied vocal stylings then after the title track I was thoroughly mesmerized by tracks 10 through till the end. In short, this is more about the fantastic musicians of Africa and their instruments; Bela Fleck often fades into the background and lets them shine.
A wonderful project; great documentary and superb soundtrack!