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Banjo maverick Béla Fleck goes to Africa so his instrument can “come back and play with its old folks,” as Ugandan musician Walusimbi Nsimbambi Haruna puts it. The bluegrass instrument barnacled its way to America during Middle Passage in some form, but few of Fleck’s collaborators—locals in Uganda, Tanzania, Senegal, the Gambia, and Mali—recognize the family resemblance. It’s a situation that would be fertile for an exploration of musical cross-pollination if Fleck exhibited any personality whatsoever. Instead, there are innumerable shots of the gee-whiz look plastered across his face whenever he watches other musicians, the hunkered-down expression he wears while trying to wedge his instrument into already arranged songs, and the particularly lost look he gets when Haruna starts crying after playing a song about how his dad died before he made anything of himself. “You think it’s because the song is about your father?” Fleck asks, tentatively. Fleck’s got a tremendous ear and can jam with anyone, but it’s striking how rarely the proceedings are improved by his generally unobtrusive accompaniments. In Mali, Fleck expresses amazement that his friend, singer Oumou Sangare, has air conditioning—twice. It’s as close as he comes to epiphany. —AB