The other day a friend of mine texted me (albeit at 4am – he forgot about time changes) to tell me I had to hear a story on public radio involving Bela Fleck. For those of you who do not know Bela Fleck he is an incredible Grammy award winning musician and considered by many to be the premier banjo player in the world.

When you think of the banjo you think of it as a distinctly American instrument that is used for distinctly American blue grass music.

But did you know that the banjo comes from Africa? Bela Fleck traveled to Uganda, Tanzania, Mali, and Gambia to explore the African roots of the banjo and made an incredible documentary called “Throw Down Your Heart.” You can watch the movie on a paid YouTube channel (Click here). In the trailer Bela Fleck says that while the banjo is known as a southern white instrument in reality the banjo originated hundreds of years ago somewhere on the African continent. These instruments were simple using an animal skin tacked on to a hollowed half of a gourd with three or four strings stretched over a stick. Supposedly one name these instruments was the “banjar.”

So next time you see a banjo player picking some great licks remember that its roots come from Africa.