“Throw Down Your Heart” follows Grammy-winning banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck on a cross-continent journey across Africa. Fleck stops in Uganda, Tanzania, Gambia, and Mali, under the excuse of exploring (according to the press notes) “the little known African roots of the banjo.” Fleck also drags along recording equipment and a sound engineer to record local (and, we assuming, unsigned) musicians and singers.
For the most part, Fleck doesn’t seem particularly intrigued on finding the banjo’s African heritage – the film offers little in the way of historic value in understanding the origin of the instrument. Furthermore, Fleck doesn’t seem particularly intrigued in very much – he goes about the film was a dazed and bemused expression, offering very little in the way of memorable commentary. For someone who is supposedly the center of a film, Fleck just doesn’t register on camera.
The fuel to the film is the music, and fans of world music will enjoy the vibrant and spontaneous performances gathered here (but don’t expect to find Tanzania’s answer to Susan Boyle). Even better, this is pure, undiluted African music and not the excessively clever quasi-African hodgepodge that Paul Simon put together with his “Graceland” album from years ago. The film’s soundtrack album is already available, and that might be a better option for those who prefer listening to great music without having to sit through a so-so movie.