Continuing with my theme of how preconceptions can get in the way of hearing something simply for what it is, I give you two much maligned instruments: the accordion and the banjo. The accordion started out innocently enough, but due to its capacity for playing rhythm, melody and harmony simultaneously, and being incredibly loud and portable, it became immensely popular and supplanted older instruments, ending up becoming the heart and soul of many folk idioms. Eventually, it became the most conspicuous member of the Polka ensemble, and from there it was a short hop to the Lawrence Welk Show, where its fate was sealed to an entire generation of young people who simply HATED the instrument, and were enamored of the electric guitar. It is only recently that the accordion has lost some of its stigma.
Next, turn back the clock to the late late 70’s and banjoist extraordinaire Tony Trischka’s fascination with the African roots of the banjo. Who knew? But yes, that instrument which we associate with Country music (plus bluegrass and old-timey), minstrel shows and Dixieland comes from Mama Africa. Years later, I interviewed Angelique Kidjo who told me how much she hated the banjo. Why? Because her father loved American banjo music! Now fast forward to this week, when the soundtrack to the film “Throw down your heart” about banjoist Bela Fleck’s journey to Africa to commune with musicians and find common threads of sound, is now available. What is it about these instruments that has aroused so much emotion? They are only instruments, things to make music with! All I can say is let’s hope that Bela’s explorations bring us al a little bit closer to throwing down our preconceptions about music.