Throw Down Your Heart Places Banjo, and Béla Fleck, in Africa


Throw Down Your Heart
Directed by Sascha Paladino
Opens April 24, IFC Center

It was The Beverly Hillbillies (or rather, bluegrass pioneer Earl Scruggs strumming its theme song) that first drew 11-time Grammy-winning banjo sensation Béla Fleck to his musical weapon of choice—which, contrary to what most believe, didn't originate in the pig-squealing backwoods of Appalachia. On a heartfelt personal and cultural mission, Fleck financed a five-week trip to Uganda, Tanzania, the Gambia, and Mali to revisit the banjo's actual African roots and place those five strings back in a more historically accurate context. Along with his audio engineer Dave Sinko and his half-brother Sascha Paladino—who directs this concert doc-cum-travelogue—Fleck meets and collaborates with locals, from a Ugandan village's only female thumb-piano player to blind multi-instrumentalist Anania Ngoliga and Malian superstar Oumou Sangaré. All the jams are fabulously stirring but not sappy, especially when Fleck duels with a Gambian man on a three-string akonting (forefather to the banjo), but there's nothing more to the film, as if Paul Simon took us behind the scenes of recording Graceland. It's refreshing to see a doc in Africa that’s not about the heartbreak of HIV and genocide, but setting the bar low means the film could also have been a whole lot shorter.


Now Showing

Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

Box Office Report

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!