You know it as a staple of American Roots Music, but did you know that the banjo’s true roots lie in Africa? Grammy-winning Fleckstones frontman Béla Fleck (a banjo virtuoso if there ever was one) took five weeks off from his day job to explore his instrument’s origins—in Uganda, Tanzania, Gambia, and Mali. He did a fair share of jamming along the way, with everyone from the Jatta Family in Gambia—whose music revolves around the akonting, the banjo’s three-string predecessor—to Malian singer and international superstar Oumou Sangare. Sascha Paladino, his half-brother, got it all on film. The result?Throw Down Your Heart, a moving documentary with a stunning soundtrack that transports you to Africa via Bluegrass country (film and album both out now).
If you want to catch the act live, you’re in luck: next month Fleck will hit Bonnaroo and Telluride with Malian kora master Toumani Diabate, and on July 5 he’ll take New York’s Central Park SummerStage with Sangare herself. See belafleck.com for a complete tour schedule.
Christine Ajudua is an editorial assistant at Travel + Leisure.