Throw Down Your Heart
Famed banjo player Béla Fleck travels across Africa, trading licks with peers with their thumb pianos and akontings. Fleck believes these instruments are the banjo’s ancestors, and his musical guests — who include such greats as Uganda’s Haruna Walusimbi and Mali’s Oumou Sangare — are quite willing to play with him as an equal. The performances are great, but as Sascha Paladino’s film unspools, it becomes clear that Fleck is more a musician than an educator or even a camera presence. At this film’s 51-minute mark, Paladino gets around to proving Fleck’s much-touted assertion that the American instrument is rooted in Africa, by using the comments of two musicians to make the case as opposed to any demonstrations by Fleck himself or by, say, comparing two instruments. Lovers of African music will have to forgo the promised lecture in favor of what is essentially nothing more than a great concert film.