Film: Throw Down Your Heart

Bela Fleck takes bluegrass back to Africa in this fascinating documentary.

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In the opening sequence of this elegant documentary, banjo whiz Béla Fleck stands in a Ugandan village, his first stop on a transcontinental quest to reintroduce his instrument to its African roots. He’s picking a rapid-fire bluegrass riff before a few dozen bemused villagers when a wispy teen starts shredding on a single-string proto-fiddle. Fleck struggles awkwardly to play along. Then the crowd steps in, clapping a rhythm for the beleaguered American virtuoso, and in seconds, the two musicians are head-bobbing in a full-on jam.

When director Sascha Paladino and the Flecktones front man (his older brother) launched their African tour in 2005, the plan was simply to roll camera while Fleck recorded alongside local musicians. But Throw Down Your Heart is more than just a Behind the Music for the resulting album: By documenting Fleck’s burgeoning friendships with his collaborators—a posse of throat-singing urban Maasai teens, a Ugandan thumb-pianist who wows with an instrument traditionally played by men—the film subtly probes issues like cultural preservation and changing gender roles. Fleck’s itinerary also illustrates the continent’s diversity, as seen in the contrast between the Ugandans’ thatched-roof huts and a Malian pop diva’s comparatively glitzy cell-phone-and-SUV lifestyle. Like all great music docs, Throw Down Your Heart explores social issues without ever taking the focus off the tunes.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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