Film and TV

Throw Down Your Heart at Starz

"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.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts