The African musical safari has become a prized milestone in the career of many a serious-minded Western musician, a tradition firmly established by Paul Simon's Graceland and arguably peaking with Henry Kaiser and David Lindley's 1992 exploration of Malagasy music, A World Out of Time.
The virtuoso banjoist Béla Fleck's Throw Down Your Heart is the latest instalment of the Acoustic Planet series, which has involved collaborations with jazz and bluegrass musicians. Prompted by a fascination with the African origins of the banjo, this third outing finds Fleck jamming with players from Mali, Uganda, Tanzania and the Gambia, some of whose instruments – Toumani Diabaté's kora, Bassekou Kouyate's ngoni – have a direct correlation with his own. The results include some enticing plucked-string interplay, particularly that between Fleck, Kouyate and Haruna Samake's kamele ngoni on the title-track. The less obvious combinations prove the most intriguing, such as that involving the Muwewesu Xylophone Group's giant marimba; the unison passages of banjo, thumb piano and falsetto scat-singing of Anania Ngoglia; and the buzzing lyre and toe-operated percussion of Professor Warema Masiaga Cha Cha. One of the more rewarding excursions into Africa's heart of lightness.
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