Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Bela plucks his way through Africa

At the outset of "Throw Down Your Heart,'' a documentary that chronicles banjo player Bela Fleck's journey across Africa, we're told that Africa too often is portrayed as a troubled continent. Fleck, who begins by reminding us that the banjo is an instrument with African roots, sets out to present a different view. To accomplish his mission, Fleck plays with a variety of musicians in both East and West Africa, making stops in Uganda, Tanzania, Mali and Gambia. If Fleck experienced any of the difficulties that sometimes confront travelers in the Third World, he doesn't discuss them. In fact, he doesn't discuss much of anything. Instead, he enjoys his time playing with guitarists, singers, marimba players and masters of the thumb piano. As much a tribute to African music as a documentary, "Throw Down Your Heart" should please both general audiences and musicologists. Director Sascha Paladino does an adequate job with the camera, but visual pyrotechnics are hardly the point. This is a movie that demands to be heard as much as seen.

"Throw Down Your Heart" opens Friday at the Starz FilmCenter.

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