While it’s usually the film that’s the treasure and the soundtrack album that makes a nice afterthought, both the documentary and the disc of Throw Down Your Heart justify their existence independently—and rather beautifully. The project was devised as a whole, by U.S. banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck and his filmmaker brother, Sascha Paladino, as a way of exploring the banjo’s roots in Africa. So Fleck travels across that continent, playing (and bonding) with musicians in Uganda, Tanzania, the Gambia and Mali.
The soundtrack itself is fantastic, encompassing delicate pluckings and tribal shimmies (in each case, Fleck’s banjo blends in like a kid come home). But there are some real visual treasures here, too: the sight of a 15-foot-long marimba, for example, or Gambian musicians using a gourd to make a banjo prototype instrument known as the akonting.The film’s central moment, however, occurs when one of Fleck’s guides leads him to Bagamoyo beach: For many Africans taken from the mainland as slaves, this was the point of no return. “Once you saw the sea,” he says, “it was, throw down your heart…you will never be here again.”