Sunday, February 5, 2012

Throw Down Your Heart

by Drew Martin
Yesterday I watched Béla Fleck: Throw Down Your Heart, a film about the American banjo player, Béla Anton Leoš Fleck (named after Béla Bartók, Anton Webern and Leoš Janáček). Fleck's wanted to bring the banjo back to Africa, where it originated and to play and hear good music. He tours Uganda, Tanzania, Gambia and Mali and plays in all of these places. Most of the people he encounters have never seen a banjo and they seem quite interested in it. He jams with a tribe in Uganda who have a huge xylophone dug into the ground, drops in on a family of musicians in Gambia, plays at a club in Dar es Salaam and has recording sessions in other parts of Tanzania and Mali. I like films/stories about international cultural exchanges such as this. Another documentary in this genre, which I think is a much more interesting/fascinating film is Genghis Blues - a movie about Paul Pena, a blind American singer who travels to Tuva where he competes in their throat singing contests. While Fleck is quite guileless and does not know who the Maasai are before going to East Africa, Pena, by contrast, learns Tuvan (via Russian) and is immersed in their culture before he even makes his journey. (Click on the titles above for their respective trailers)