Béla Fleck and His African Pals Rock Eisenhower Auditorium

March 4, 2010 at 10:46 am Leave a comment

Back in the late 1980s, I was one of the hosts of the Folk Show on WPSU-FM, Penn State’s public radio station, and Béla Fleck was pushing the boundaries of bluegrass music as the banjo player for the decidedly niche group New Grass Revival. We played a lot of his stuff on the show, but I doubt that most people outside the bluegrass world knew who he was.

Then Fleck started branching out even more, musically speaking, with groups like the Flecktones and collaborations with musicians like Chick Corea. Now, 20 years later, the guy has 13 Grammy Awards. And he’s got a reputation as one of the most adventurous musicians in the U.S.: He has done jazz recordings, and classical, and country, and pop.

Just this year, Fleck won two Grammy Awards for a world-music recording: Throw Down Your Heart, a collaboration with musicians from Africa. Fleck has brought some of those musicians to the U.S. to tour with him this winter, and last night he brought the show to Eisenhower Auditorium.

It was cool to see how he showcased the musicians—first introducing a pair of musicians from Tanzania, Anania Ngoliga on thumb piano and John Kitime on guitar (see photo at left), then leaving the stage so they could play a few numbers for the crowd, then coming back to play with them as a trio. Similarly, he introduced a group of musicians from Mali—Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni ba—then let them play, before returning to the stage to jam with them.

And “jam” is really the right word. It’s kind of funny to say that a bunch of African musicians, playing instruments made out of gourds and wood and the like, rocked Eisenhower Auditorium, but that’s exactly what they did. It was electric.

You can see the remaining tour dates here and more photos from last night’s concert here.

Tina Hay, editor

Entry filed under: University Park. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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