"I just want to blend in," claims banjoist Béla Fleck early in Throw Down Your Heart, a documentary about his musical journey to Africa (where the banjo originated). A moment later, after glancing at the native performers around him, he admits, "I'm not going to blend in." Yet he often does, at least from a sonic standpoint — a tribute to his approach that's as welcome as it is unexpected. Over the years, we've seen a number of famous Caucasian artists make a big deal of dipping their toe into other cultures, but the emotional remove that's marked well-meaning experiments by the likes of Paul Simon caused the results to feel somewhat imperialistic at times, as if these far-flung forms existed mainly to spruce up Western pop songs. In contrast, Fleck comes across as an earnest student trying to learn all he can from the masters of styles he admires but doesn't understand as well as he'd like. His emotion and joy are infectious, and so are the beautiful noises he conjures up alongside his African peers.
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