Only a god with a complete control of their instrument, like Béla Fleck, could go so deep into their shit that they end up back in fucking Africa. That shit is like a monk going full Obi-wan and having their atoms join the cosmos and leaving behind an empty robe on the floor. That’s a master chef creating such a perfect bite that its taste induces every emotion humanly available, alongside multiple orgasms and epiphanies, and then retiring directly thereafter. It’s an electrician becoming Tesla. A pornstar deepthroating an entire person. A racer going warp. Picasso fucking fingerpainting. It’s a goddamn doyen achieving a complete understanding of their craft. Is it interesting to listen to? What the fuck do you think?
But Africa? How the hickory-shit does the tooth-missing, cousin-fucking, get-the-fuck-off-my-porch-ing twang box connect back to Africa? During that oh-shit-slavery period of American history, a painting called “The Old Plantation” was made. There are peeps direct from the Caribbean playing the fucking banjo. Many people believe the banjo came to the Caribbean from West Africa. But this shit goes much deeper. Check it: The word “banjo” might derive from the Kimbundu word mbanza, mbanza might be the African remake of the Portuguese banza, which could originate from bandore, which could be the Anglicization of bandurria, and this shit? This shit might stem from an ancient fucking Afro-Caribbean folk dance called the banya. Catch that? The banjo is so fucking old it could date back to some dance Adam and Eve did after eating the no-no apple. Now that’s some fucking roots. So what does a master banjo player do with this information? He goes to Africa and jams with other insane musicians. Thus: this fucking album. Well, kinda.
Béla released the majority of this album back in 2010, called it Throw Down Your Heart, and even made a movie about it. On it, Fleck plays with singers, guitarists, xylophones, and tons of other shit. So what’s this fucking album? This is the greatest, and mostly unreleased, session from that entire fucking project. This is the session where Béla Fleck, likely the world’s greatest banjo player in the world, plays with Toumani Diabaté, probably the greatest kora player in the world. The kora is like a banjo but with 21 strings. One of my fave songs is the last: “Dueling Banjos” aka that shit from Deliverance. On it, both musicians play their chops until Toumani starts to show a bit too much flex. From there Béla says, “You know this means war.” From there they both pop musical veins all over the fucking place. This is all out of kindness, of course. They’re both at this point in their musical ascendancy where they wouldn’t debase themselves with something like competition.
These two dedicated their lives to the twang. A sound that has crossed countries, centuries, cultures, immeasurable cruelty, and comes from something so fucking ancient we’re just guessing at its origins. It’s a sound that’s so lighthearted and joyful it must be transitory. Right? Because glee can’t be old. Can it? Listening to this album is like figuring out the dawn of mankind derives from a joke. Some pluckful quip that reverberates all the way back to the origins of the universe. This delightful, light, and irrational state of affairs where atoms swirled, joined, and fucked for no other reason than attraction and shits ‘n’ giggles. Some delightful joke that led to the Big Bang. But after listening to this album, I think we got it wrong. Bang? Fuck no. Twang, motherfucker. Twang.