In a music scene saturated with Britney, Justin and Beyonce, it’s easy to overlook pop rockers who don’t regularly provide MTV with scandalous musicvideos or stage publicity stunts to increase album sales. But VH1 proves that music can still be meaningful in its latest installment of “Inside (Out),” which documents the trip to Africa taken by Trey Anastasio (lead singer of Phish) and Dave Matthews.
Despite the lack of media hype surrounding the two artists, VH1 decided to follow them to Dakar, the capital of Senegal. Invited to perform with Orchestra Baobab, a Senegalese band popular in the 1970s, the rock duo reveal their insecurities as musicians while performing with the West African musicians they consider “kings.” “I feel like a child who likes to sing in the shower and then one day takes the stage with the masters,” Matthews says.
The group’s ability to fuse Afro-Cuban music with various local sounds is what lures Anastasio and Matthews to play with the group in their first African show in 15 years.
The stage collaboration provides some of the most intriguing scenes. During a rehearsal for the concert, Anastasio teaches Baobab how to play the Phish hit “Bouncing Around the Room”; although few words are spoken, members of Baobab quickly learn the chords and lyrics. By concert time, the song goes off without a hitch.
As integral to the project as Orchestra Baobab is, the program provides only a brief history of the group. But segments featuring various members rehashing stories from their glory days as well as the band’s frequent jam sessions help reveal the remarkable musical aptitude of the group.
After establishing the premise behind the trip, the doc maintains its appeal by shifting the focus to the cultural experiences that Anastasio and Matthews undergo as artists and, perhaps more interestingly, as unrecognized American artists.
Hand-held cameras capture the two shedding their rock star personas and immersing themselves into African culture when on a tour of an 18th century prison/slave camp or interacting with Positive Black Soul, a local African rap group.