Bela Fleck Brings Africa to Penn State
While a good deal of the concert-going student body was moshing to Flogging Molly last night, a very different kind of show was going on “across the pond” (or across Shortlidge at the Eisenhower Auditorium). Bela Fleck, banjo wizard supreme, presented “The Africa Project”, a musical collaboration between him and musicians he found when traveling to Africa to learn about the history of the banjo.
The evening featured a thumb piano and acoustic guitar duo (Anania Ngoliga and John Kitime, respectively) from Tanzania that made excellent use of vocal harmony, and a seven-piece group from Mali called Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba. This septet included a powerful female singer, two percussionists, and four players of the ngoni, a West African instrument that greatly influenced the banjo. Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba especially impressed me, showing remarkable range with instrumentation that’s unique to a westerner such as myself.
The highlight of the performance was definitely the final act, in which all of the night’s collaborators got on stage together and played a few solid tunes to close the evening, showcasing everyone’s virtuosity. Fleck, of course, tore it up on the banjo, and the now-11-piece group was a musical powerhouse. I left with only two disappointments: first, some of the songs went on for a bit too long, and second, Victor Wooten, the greatest living bassist and member of Bela Fleck’s Flecktones, did not make an appearance. But who am I to complain?
Overall a great night for concerts, whether you’re into Irish punk or bluegrassy World music.