Béla Fleck has been credited with reviving the five string banjo and bringing it to new audiences over the past 20 years, much as Earl Scruggs had done as the seminal banjo pioneer 40 years earlier.
Fleck might shrink from such a comparison, but seen in a context beyond bluegrass and traditional music forms, it bears up quite well.
Where Scruggs brought the banjo (and bluegrass music) recognition as a serious musical endeavor, Béla has widened its accepted applications to include jazz, funk, classical, and now world music as well.
His next CD, Throw Down Your Heart (Tales From The Acoustic Planet, Vol 3, africa sessions), is the studio component of the documentary film by the same name which follows Béla on his musical journeys in Africa during 2005. The album will be released on March 10 by Rounder Records, and limited theatrical release of the film will follow later that month.
The concept for both projects came from Fleck’s pondering on the African roots of the modern banjo, and wondering about the wealth of banjo-ish music that must reside in the small villages of rural African. He was recording then for Sony’s classical division, and they not only loved the idea of a recording, but suggested filming it as well.
Béla’s brother, Sascha Paladino, is a documentary filmmaker and plans were hatched for audio and film production overseas. As things transpired, Sony pulled out before the trip began, and Fleck found himself as the executive producer of both projects, meaning he was the chief financier as well as musical producer.
The trip went on as planned, with the film and CD versions documenting his musical collaborations with a number of exceptional African musicians. Béla and Sascha traveled to Uganda, Tanzania, Mali, Senegal and the Gambi, returning home with 250 hours of film and 40 audio recordings for their effort.
While Paladino labored over the film project, Fleck focused on choosing the best songs and performances for the audio CD. Now, all that is completed, and the rest of us will soon be able to sample the fruits of their labor.
Béla says that a truncated edit of the Throw Down Your Heart film will be aired on Nashville’s WNPT TV on March 5, and again throughout the month, with theatrical releases in San Francisco (3/13-19) and New York (4/24-30) to follow.
We hope to get a few more details about this ambitious project prior to its release.