The banjo has traditionally been viewed as an instrument associated with country music, cowboys and the song "Home on the Range." Béla Fleck, the world-renowned banjo musician who will be playing at Bowdoin this upcoming Tuesday, has devoted his life to changing that mindset.
Fleck began playing the banjo as a teenager and immediately started experimenting with different genres.
His efforts paid off: he has won 11 Grammy awards for his music.
Fleck holds the honor of having been nominated in more categories than anyone else in Grammy history.
He has performed with other Grammy winners and recording artist legends including the Grateful Dead, Sting and Dave Matthews Band.
Fleck and his band, the Flecktones, have released numerous classical, bluegrass, jazz, pop, rock and world beat albums, all featuring Fleck's famous banjo skills.
Fleck's most recent album, titled "Throw Down Your Heart," will provide the basis for his performance on Tuesday.
"Throw Down Your Heart" is the result of Fleck's experience traveling throughout Africa, where the world's first banjo was made. On his journey, Fleck collaborated with musicians from Uganda, Tanzania, Senegal, Mali, South Africa and Madagascar who are all featured on the album.
"Throw Down Your Heart" is also the name of a film made about Fleck's experience and is being shown at festivals around the country.
Bowdoin became interested in having Fleck perform on campus after noticing publicity for his African-themed album and film.
"We saw that Fleck had planned a tour as part of his Africa project that included several musicians from Africa," said Director of Events and Summer Programs Tony Sprague.
"It represented a once in a lifetime opportunity to see Fleck performing with these other talented musicians, and we were able to secure a date on Fleck's busy tour schedule." Sprague added.
Tuesday's performance will include performances from some of the musicians that Fleck met while in Africa.
As Visiting Assistant Professor of the music deparment Anthony Perman said. "I don't think of this as the Béla Fleck concert. I think of it as the Béla Fleck, Bassekou Kouyate, Anania Ngoliga and John Kitime concert."
All of the musicians performing with Fleck are talented and play unique instruments, some that audience members may have never seen or heard of before.
For example, Kouyate and his band, Ngoni Ba, come from Mali. Kouyate will be accompanying Fleck on the ngoni, a traditional Malian instrument that resembles a lute or banjo.
"Kouyate is as revolutionary to the ngoni as Fleck is to the banjo," said Perman. "He brings a virtuosity to the instrument that is pretty amazing to hear, even if you know nothing abut Mande music from West Africa."
Fleck will also be joined by Ngoliga and Kitime from Tanzania. Ngoliga plays the ilimba, which is similar to a thumb piano.
All of these instruments, from the banjo to the ilimba, will blend together to create an entirely one-of-a-kind musical experience.
"One of the most unique aspects of Fleck's musical talent is his ability to adapt to such diverse styles of music, and we hope that his performance will highlight that flexibility and skill," said Sprague.
Fleck's concert will expose audience members to completely new instruments and sounds.
The College hopes that his performance will also provide a forum for the African musicians to showcase their musical abilities in the United States.
"We hope that the audience will enjoy the opportunity to experience the talents of several musicians and recognize just how much musical talent exists around the world and across the various styles of music," said Sprague.
The concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 2 in Pickard Theater.
Advance tickets have already sold out, but there will be a small number of tickets available at the Pickard Theater box office starting at 6:30 p.m.
Tickets are free for Bowdoin students, faculty and staff with identification.
The concert is open to the public, and tickets cost $10 for members of the Association of Bowdoin Friends and $25 for the general public.