Music, definitely at its best and sometimes at its worst, brings people together. It’s an agent of good in the world, a way to bring together performer and listener, musicians with other musicians, and cultures with other cultures. It takes a big, big world and makes it a little bit smaller.
That’s what makes the latest from banjo wizard Béla Fleck such a worthwhile piece of work.
Fleck is releasing Throw Down Your Heart, the complete sessions from his African journey to discover the roots of the banjo, a trip documented in the 2009 film of the same name. As part of this CD/DVD set, he’s releasing a previously unheard collaboration with Malian kora legend Toumani Diabaté.
If you don’t fancy seeing and hearing all of Throw Down Your Heart, the Fleck-Diabaté team-up is available as its own individual full-length release titled The Ripple Effect. And lemme tell ya, if hearing the universality of the banjo and roots music on a global scale is your thing, you’ll love it.
Recorded live, The Ripple Effect serves as a showcase for just how deeply talented and generous Fleck and Diabaté are as musicians. The pair alternate between lead and rhythm turns, Fleck taking center stage on his own songs like “Bamako” and “Snug Harbor,” Diabaté taking the spotlight on his “Manchester” and “Kauonding Sissoko.” What stands out is just how virtuosic each is at his respective instrument, but also how generous both men are as musicians. The two meld their styles together seamlessly, no egos or showboating. Fleck and Diabaté shine as individuals and as rhythm accompaniment, each providing a sturdy base for the other to play off of.
The Ripple Effect also serves an important musical purpose. It recontextualizes the banjo, taking it out of the realm of stuffy white hokum in which the masses might picture it and placing it on the global stage where it belongs. On the flip side, it takes the kora and African music and strips it of its otherness, and highlights the impact this instrument and style have had on American roots music. It takes two seemingly disparate things and shows that at their core, they’re awfully similar.
And at the end of the day, bringing people together and making connections is what music is all about.