Music

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

Like a prodigal son, the banjo returns to Africa. Celebration -- in the form of kickass music -- ensues.


Béla Fleck

Throw Down Your Heart

Subtitle: Tales from the Acoustic Planet, Volume 3: Africa Sessions
Label: Rounder
US Release Date: 2009-03-08
UK Release Date: 2009-03-08
Amazon
Amazon
iTunes

In Béla Fleck's recent documentary Throw Down Your Heart, he takes the banjo back to Africa, playing with musicians in Mali, Uganda, Senegal, Tanzania and the Gambia in an attempt to rediscover the instrument's centuries-old roots. The resulting sound is something like an auditory representation of the prodigal son's return in which the killing of the fatted calf takes the form of infectious rhythms and primal beats.

However, despite the overall uplifting feeling of the music, there's also a hint of sadness. (The album/documentary's title, Throw Down Your Heart is taken from a comment made about the slave trade, in which those who were being loaded onto the ships "threw down their hearts," for they knew they'd never return.) "Throw Down Your Heart", the most-subdued song on the album with its intricate rhythms -- courtesy of Fleck and Malian musicians Haruna Samake and Basekou Kouyate -- make this a song in which something new reveals itself to the listener with each play.

Throw Down Your Heart is the most ambitious album to date in Bela's multivolume Tales from the Acoustic Planet project. The previous two volumes examine jazz and bluegrass from the varied perspectives of Fleck, his bandmates the Flecktones and a host of guest musicians. While both are wonderful albums, it's been over a decade since the release Volume Two, and Fleck is only getting more innovative with age.

Several of the collaborations on Throw Down Your Heart are, in a word, stunning. Most notable are the tracks featuring Oumou Sangare, a Malian singer whose vocal prowess, charitable work and celebrity status make her something of an Aretha Franklin/Oprah Winfrey hybrid. Those who've never been exposed to Sangare's voice are in for a real treat with "Djorolen", a beautiful song which pleads others to pay attention to societal ills and human suffering. Madagascar native D'Gary amazes with his fingerstyle guitar playing on the appropriately named "D'Gary Jam", a six-minute song that began as a 22-minute jam session in Nashville before Fleck added other African musicians to the final cut throughout his journey.

The liner notes serve as a treat to read and a fascinating companion to the music; not only does Fleck describe some of the tribulations he faced in the creation of this project (including Sony Classical removing themselves -- and its funding -- from the project, leaving Fleck as the producer/sole investor), but each song gets in-depth attention as Fleck notes the recording experience, the inspiration behind the song and most helpfully, a translation of the non-English lyrics.

Though the banjo has been removed from Africa for some time (though its ancestors, the ngoni and the akonting have thrived over the centuries) in the hands of Fleck, banjo music sounds perfectly at home among the African beats and syncopated rhythms of Throw Down Your Heart. This one should be mandatory listening, not only for fans of bluegrass, jazz and world musics, but for anyone who still thinks of the banjo as mere hillbilly prop.

9

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image