If music is made to be shared, then it served its purpose at Pickard Theater on Tuesday night with "Béla Fleck and the African Project," a performance centered around the revered banjo player Béla Fleck and the African musicians he is collaborating with for a 33-show U.S. tour.

Fleck's 30-year career playing banjo has allowed him to experiment with style and sound and to explore new ways of harnessing the musical power of his instrument far beyond the confines of traditional bluegrass or folk music.

His recent journey to African countries like Uganda, Gambia, Tanzania and Mali in search of the origins of the banjo led to the creation of his award-winning 2009 documentary "Throw Down Your Heart" and the subsequent release of an album of the same name composed of his collaborations with the African musicians he met along the way.

The album received two Grammy awards including "Best Pop Instrumental Performance" and "Best Contemporary World Music Album," and after seeing the music performed live, one can understand exactly why Fleck's collaborations received such acclaim.

The Pickard Theater show went beyond collaboration, however. It was a living manifestation of the word "harmonious" reflected through a series of performances in which Fleck played his banjo in a melodious dialogue with the other musicians and with his audience.

The music transcended language, nationality and time and extended beyond the confines of Bowdoin's campus. The whole performance exuded an air of incredible universality.

Despite an opening featuring Béla's lighthearted solo playing and humorous interactions with the audience, throughout the performance one could not help feeling that one was in the presence of an incredibly talented musician.

Fleck played the banjo as if it were a five-stringed extension of his own body, his fingers twiddling along the neck and head as though engaging in a prolonged dance.

This dance only continued and took on new shapes and forms as Fleck collaborated with the African musicians on tour with him.

The Tanzanian finger-pianist and singer Anania Ngoliga inspired awe and laughter as he plucked diverse melodies, announcing the end of each smaller solo piece with a "thud" and a giggle. Béla Fleck, Ngoliga and Ngoliga's accompanying vocalist and guitarist John Kitime played off one another with ease, each musician amplifying and decorating the music of the other to form a unified, sparkly sound.

Ngoliga interspersed the music with strange, erratic sounds that somehow fit, raising eyebrows and igniting laughter. At one point Béla and Ngolia engaged in a friendly battle between thumb-piano and banjo.

The interaction between the musicians was at once focused and relaxed, each artist brought his own energetic personality to the performance.

After Ngolia, the world famous Malian band Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni ba took the stage dressed in vibrant gold and purple robes to match a dazzling performance.

Comprised of Bassekou Kouyate on the Malian banjo, the ngoni, Fousseyni Kouyate on ngoni ba, Barou Kouyate also on ngoni, Moussa Bah on bass ngoni, Amy Sacko singing lead vocals, Ma Soumano singing vocals, Alou Coulibaly on the calebasse, and Moussa Sissoko playing percussion, the group led by Bassekou Kouyate, a man arguably considered the best living player of the ngoni (an early forerunner of the modern American banjo).

Kouyate's ability to produce diverse sound from the unadorned ngoni was nothing short of magical and awe-inspiring, enough to make audience members lean forward in their seats to better see how he produced that kind of sound.

The performance represented an incredible intersection not only of cultures but also of the traditional and the modern. Kouyate rocked out with a foot pedal and amplifier in order to morph and expand the sound of the ngoni, and the steady, heartbeat-like bass of the calebasse kept each song grounded and earthy while at times bringing to mind club beats.

Amy Sacko's angelic voice and sensual dancing elevated the sound and mood of the concert, her voice mimicked later by the whining drones of a fiddle.

Béla integrated the sound of the modern American banjo with that of the traditional ngonis and African percussion instruments with an ease that allowed the banjo's sound to simultaneously stand out and blend in.

Certain moments throughout the concert the sounds of instruments and human voices were so cohesive that it was difficult to discern where one ended and another began.

There was little talking throughout the concert, but once or twice Kouyate spoke to the audience in French-accented English, and at one point turned to Béla and exclaimed, "good job man!" during one of Béla's banjo solos.

The night was characterized by an entirely instrumental conversation, the natural fusion of unique notes and chords throughout the performance reflecting the harmonious intermingling of cultures.

After the show I was so blown away that it was hard for me to find the words to express what was experienced. But if the performance convinced me of one thing it is that sometimes words are inadequate.