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Fleck Brings sounds of Africa to Eisenhower

Posted by Carly Mallenbaum on 03/10 at 04:40 PM

Béla Fleck has documented his musical travels to Uganda, The Gambia, Tanzania, and Mali in his documentary “The Africa Project.”  Last Thursday, Fleck brought some of these African sounds, along with musicians he met, to Eisenhower Auditorium.

Fleck’s Africa Project show had to have been the craziest jam session I’ve ever seen.  The combination of Fleck, one of the best banjo players in the world, and African musicians Bassekou Kouyate, Ngoni Ba, Anania Ngolica, and John Kitme, was wild.  There were so many different sounds in the mix: singing, finger piano, African banjos, a guitar, several different African drums, a fiddle, an American banjo (which is Fleck’s instrument), and even chicken sounds (one song was about “a woman who sounded like a chicken”).  Individually, each artist showed mastery in his or her instrument of choice, producing impressive sounds that seemed too fast, varied, and exact to come from humans.  As a group, the sounds were unlike anything else I’ve heard; a combination Fleck called “Tanzmalican” (music from Tanzania, Mali, and America). Somehow, the different timbres and types of instruments worked together beautifully.

My only slight complaint about the show was that it felt like there was too much of a gulf between the performers and the audience.  In Africa, music is a communal activity where there is no divide between audience and performer: everyone participates.  It felt like at Eisenhower Auditorium, however, the entertainers were very separate from the entertained.  I wanted to dance and join in, but I felt disconnected from the performers on stage.  It was easy for the audience to feel left out of the show in that big venue. 

Next time Fleck comes around (he’s performed in State College before) he should think about playing in a smaller, more intimate venue. It was wonderful to give so many people a chance to experience the performance, but it’s also important that they be able to join in on the musical masterpiece and, it they’re so moved, maybe try some African dancing.

{name} Author: Carly Mallenbaum
Bio: Carly Mallenbaum is a junior majoring in Broadcast Journalism with a minor in Law and Liberal Arts. At any given time, you will likely find her dancing, running, reading, playing soccer, or listening to music with her huge green headphones. She loves many types of music, specifically alternative rock and anything she can dance to. Some artists she likes are John Mayer Trio, Coldplay, Vampire Weekend, Justin Timberlake, G. Love, Spoon, and The Beatles.

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