Béla Fleck: The Africa Project brings unique show to Avalon Theatre

Bela Fleck plays the banjo, while Bassekou Kouyate plays the ngoni — an instrument similar to the familiar banjo.

Béla Fleck is coming to Grand Junction with a whole new look.

On his previous two stops in Grand Junction, Fleck was with the Flecktones: Futureman, Jeff Coffin and Victor Wooten.

This time Fleck will play his banjo alongside acoustic music played by several Africans he met during a 2005 visit to Africa.

Inspired by the visit and the 2009 release of “Throw Down Your Heart, Tales from the Acoustic Planet, Vol. 3: Africa sessions,” the Béla Fleck: The Africa Project was created.

That show will go on the stage in Grand Junction at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 6, at Avalon Theatre.

“Béla is the world’s best banjo player, and then you throw in all the African players, and it’s going to be over-the-top good,” said local concert promoter Ron Wilson.

Those African musicians likely aren’t household names, but their lack of notoriety won’t make them less fascinating and interesting to listen to, Wilson said.

There is a reason Fleck is touring with African musicians, just as there was a reason for his trip to Africa five years ago. Originally, Fleck traveled overseas to research the roots of the banjo.

What Fleck discovered were several musicians who gave him the answers he was looking for in a musicality not often heard in the United States.

In Mali, Fleck met Bassekou Kouyate and his band named Ngoni Ba.

Kouyate plays the ngoni, a stringed instrument similar to the banjo.

The similarities between the ngoni and the banjo enable the merger of the bluegrass music Fleck plays and the West African music close to Kouyate’s heart.

In fact, American blues traces its roots to West Africa and the Sahel region of modern-day Mali where Kouyate and Ngoni Ba are from, according to Kouyate.

On his album “I Speak Fula,” Kouyate blended the ancient musical traditions of the griots of Mali — griots are like bards — with contemporary jazz, rock, blues and pop influences.

Kouyate also appears on the title track of Fleck’s double-Grammy nominated album.

But Mali wasn’t the only country Fleck visited on his 2005 quest.

In Tanzania, Fleck met Anania Ngoglia, who is blind and plays the thumb piano, and John Kitime, a guitarist and singer.

Ngoglia’s improvisational skills prompted Fleck to want to collaborate and tour with Ngoglia, according to a news release at http://www.belafleck.com

In the same news release, Fleck touted the musical influence Kitime has had in Tanzania as head of the Tanzanian Musicians Union.

It isn’t often that musicians from Mali and Tanzania perform alongside a musician such as Fleck, much less travel to Grand Junction, which was the primary reason for booking the show, Wilson said.

Fleck is a familiar name in this area because of his past appearances both here and at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. However, Wilson doubted people had heard of Kouyate or Ngoglia until now.

“We are always stretching things,” Wilson said. “This is a unique thing.”

Tickets to Béla Fleck: The Africa Project are $35.

They are available by calling 243-TIXS or at Triple Play Records, Back Porch Music and most City Market stores (tickets not available at the store at the intersection of Orchard Avenue and First Street).


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