Banjo pioneer Earl Scruggs died this week. He took the instrument to dizzying technical heights for the bluegrass genre. And he influenced a new generation of banjo players.
At the top of that new generation is Bela Fleck. Scruggs was such a seminal figure for the banjo, it was almost like he invented the instrument. His passing was a reminder of Bela Fleck’s 2005 travels through Africa to discover early iterations of the banjo there. Many ethno-musicologists trace the banjo’s roots to Gambia in West Africa and an instrument called the akonting. Bela Fleck saw that first hand. But he also discovered other distant cousins of the banjo in Uganda, Tanzania and Mali.
The World worked with Bela Fleck in 2005 to record audio from his trip to East and West Africa, and create a soundscape of what he heard and saw. Here they are again. They’re preceded by an interview with Bela and The World’s Lisa Mullins before he left on his banjo safari.
Bela Fleck: Why are You Going to Africa in the First Place?
Bela Fleck Looks for the Banjo in Uganda
Bela Fleck Looks for the Banjo in Tanzania
Bela Fleck Looks for the Banjo in Mali and Gambia