Throw Down Your Heart – The Banjo Goes Back To Africa

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Everybody knows the story of the banjo, right? The minstrel shows and Oh Susannah! and the southern string bands and Dock Boggs and Uncle Dave Macon, right? John and Alan Lomax, the famous musicologists, called the banjo “America’s only original folk instrument,” and they know what they’re talking about, right? Well, not exactly.

The banjo first came to the Americas with the Africans who played it. Slaves in the Americas continued to make and play banjos, and whites never played it much until the minstrel shows took off in the 1840s. After Emancipation, black musicians wanted no part of the banjo, and the banjo’s creation myth took firm hold.

Scholars like Cecelia Conway, author of the landmark African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia, have done their best to retire this myth, but it’s not dead yet. Now comes Bela Fleck, banjo virtuoso extraordinaire, to do some myth-killing of his own.

Throw Down Your Heart is a documentary (directed by Fleck’s brother, Sascha Paladino), in which the banjoist travels to Africa to connect with the history of his instrument and with the African musicians who keep that history alive. Can music overcome the cultural and language barriers Fleck finds in Africa? Will his CD come out OK? Find the answers to these and many other questions in this always entertaining and often moving film- if you can find a screening, that is.

Throw Down Your Heart wowed the festival circuit, but has not been able to get anything approaching wide distribution. It will be shown in New York City at the IFC Center from April 24-30, and you can find a complete list of screenings here. It’s worth seeking out. Here’s the trailer. Please enjoy.

Even if you don’t get to see the movie, the CD came out just fine- take a look.

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2 Responses to “Throw Down Your Heart – The Banjo Goes Back To Africa”

  1. Music From The Oxford American « Harry’s Music Says:

    […] Music: there’s a cut from Carlene Carter’s almost-new CD, Stronger, and a sample of Bela Fleck’s African collaborations. Add a Chris Isaak duet with Trisha Yearwood, the unjustly ignored Rodriguez […]

  2. Bela Fleck Banjo Movie News Bulletin « Harry’s Music Says:

    […] Movie News Bulletin By Don Bashline I’ve mentioned Throw Down Your Heart on this blog before – it’s a documentary of banjoist Bela Fleck’s trip to Africa in search of the […]

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