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Bela Fleck’s African discovery

Performer's noms inspired on trip to continent

Bela Fleck has won 10 Grammys in eight different categories, everything from country instrumental performance to spoken word to classical crossover album. This year he is up for three awards, two of which are related to an album that started with a trip to Africa and has resulted unexpectedly in a cottage industry that includes a documentary, two U.S. tours and a follow-up album.

The film “Throw Down Your Heart,” directed by Fleck’s brother Sascha Paladino, chronicles the banjo player’s journeys and jams in Uganda, Tanzania, Gambia and Mali, winning an audience award when it premiered at the SXSW Film Festival in 2008. A stream of theatrical bookings followed in ’09, but formal distribution never materialized. New Video issued it on DVD in December.

As seen in the doc, Fleck spent a day with musicians — Mali’s Bassekouye Kouyate and superstar singer Oumou Sangare among them — before setting up recording gear for a session on the second day.

Rounder released the soundtrack in March, and Fleck promoted the album by bringing kora master Toumani Diabate and Sangare to the U.S. for tours last summer.

None of those shows, however, were filmed. As much as Fleck would have liked to create a sister document to “Throw Down Your Heart,” logistics and finances didn’t cooperate. On top of that, he had already planned to move on to a recording project and tour with bassist Edgar Meyer and percussionist Zakir Hussain. (Their collaboration, “The Melody of Rhythm,” is up for the classical crossover album Grammy.) “I thought the African project would be long over by that time,” he offers.

Not a chance. Fleck will self-release “Throw Down Your Heart: Africa Sessions Part 2” on Feb. 2, the same day Fleck, Kouyate and Tanzanian thumb pianist Anania Ngoliga begin a 33-city tour in Durango, Colo. In April, Fleck and Sangare will tour Australia.

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