Banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck's enthusiastic musical and verbal interplay with diverse African artists could hit a responsive chord with auds during limited theatrical play before pic's DVD release.

Early in “Throw Down Your Heart,” Sascha Paladino’s overlong but engaging doc about banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck’s harmonious journey through four African countries, Fleck admiringly appraises local musicians at an outdoor recording session, yet worries: “I don’t think I’m going to be able to blend in.” Maybe so, but not for lack of trying. Fleck comes across as respectfully curious and eagerly collaborative while exploring the roots of his favorite musical instrument. His enthusiastic musical and verbal interplay with diverse African artists could hit a responsive chord with auds during limited theatrical play before pic’s DVD release.

Fleck — a multiple Grammy winner for jazz, bluegrass and classical recordings — travels to Uganda, Tanzania, Gambia and Mali, conversing and performing with small ensembles, talented amateurs and international stars (including n’goni lutenist Bassekou Kouyate and diva Oumou Sangare). Along the way, he’s reminded how powerful — and empowering — music can be. At one point, a woman proudly talks about playing a thumb piano and outplaying the men in her small village. “When I played with them,” she says, “I used to fear. But now I don’t. I am free.”

Throw Down Your Heart

Production

A FleckPaladinoFilms production. Produced by Bela Fleck, Sascha Paladino. Directed by Sascha Paladino.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Kirsten Johnson; editors, Scott A. Burgess, Fleck, Paladino. Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (24 Beats Per Second), March 9, 2008. Running time: 97 MIN.

With

Bela Fleck, Oumou Sangare, Bassekou Kouyate.
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