Written by Bill Whiting – [email protected]
Centered around the Sascha Paladino documentary, Throw Down Your Heart, and it’s subsequent Grammy award winning album, banjo master Bela Fleck and a collection of musicians from Africa engaged a sold out Parrish Auditorium audience with stories and songs from their homeland on February 22. Fleck’s entrance was unassuming, but his complex, classical- jazz leanings on the banjo soon had the crowd in the palm of his hand. Introducing the blind Tanzanian thumb harp player Anania Ngoliga and acoustic guitarist John Kitime, Fleck left the stage to the sounds of the deep African rhythms swirling through Ngoliga’s mind. A wide range of emotive singing, grunts and comedic groans from Ngoliga held the Parrish’s denizens spellbound. Ngoliga eventually convinced the Hamilton, Ohio citizens to sing in unison about ” finding their way back home.” Fleck returned to welcome Mali’s Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba. Seven players dressed in traditional African tribal garments took the stage to play songs from the Sub Pop release, I Speak Fula. An arresting world beat of high powered jazz rhythms mixing with African blues and original folk elements had the auditorium’s patrons tapping their feet and nodding their heads in a trance. For the second half of the program, Fleck broke out an acoustic number entitled “Katmandu.” Then he chose to mix it up with guitarist Kitime and Ngoliga. Soon Kouyate entered the groove as well, playing a slow blues on his African banjo. The full ensemble coalesced around a sustained jam that included percussion via the talking drum. Kouyate and Ngoni Ba’s seasoned improvisations dominated the proceedings, and they picked away feverishly with a passion and inner drive on the arresting tune, “Musow.” The evening ended on a high point as The Africa Project returned to the Grammy winning instrumental, “Throw Down Your Heart.” It was an unforgettable experience that will last in the hearts and minds of the energized crowd that left the Miami University auditorium on a cold February night.