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Film Review: Throw Down Your Heart

haruna_group_jam.jpg
Béla Fleck jams with the Haruna group in Throw Down Your Heart. / Photo courtesy of Argot Pictures.
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On paper, a documentary about Béla Fleck and his banjo (sans the Flecktones) doesn’t sound very enticing.

But luckily for audiences, Sascha Paladino’s film Throw Down Your Heart, doesn’t focus much on the soft-spoken and unassuming musician as much as the trip he takes to the heart of Africa, returning the banjo to its African roots. He travels to Uganda, Tanzania, The Gambia and Mali to jam with local musicians and learn about African music, the history of the banjo and slavery’s role in bringing the instrument to America.

Throw Down Your Heart strikes a right balance between history and music -- with an emphasis on the latter. The film is filled with Fleck’s collaborations across the continent, and though the language barriers are evident (subtitles are used to translate lyrics and conversations), nothing seems to solve the communications problem better than music.

In Uganda, Fleck plays with villagers on a 12-foot xylophone; in The Gambia he jams with a family known for their akoting skills -- thought of by many to be the original banjo; and in Mali, we’re introduced to singer Oumou Sangare, an international superstar, and we see why when her vocals lift the second-half of the film. The soul in her singing, backed by the banjo of all things, was a nice way to end this little film with a lot of heart.

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Throw Down Your Heart opened Friday in LA and runs through June 11 at Laemmle's Music Hall. Music from the film is now available from Rounder Records.

Film trailer after the jump.