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Bela Fleck and the Flecktones – Blu-Bop (90s – 100)

April 13, 2010

The CD original (on Flight of the Cosmic Hippo) of Blu-Bop was like space music to me. I was 14. Brought up in the previous decade of Star Wars and synthesised movie themes, electronic music meant space to me. And the synths on the original of this were very spacey. Plus there was a crazy drum thing called a Synth Axe Drumitar, played by someone called Future Man. At the time I bet I couldn’t help use the word cool. And then there was the electric banjo…

I was also learning musicians and instruments couldn’t be locked away into boxes. Banjo had meant bluegrass to me – and most Australian kids grew up on bluegrass because every second Sesame St segment was accompanied by a rustic 5-string. So the idea of an electric banjo blew my mind. It didn’t sound right, but it was good.

I first heard this track in 1991 on ABC Classic FM, of all stations. Now, in 2010, I’m actually listening to a lot of Classic again, as it helps my baby fall asleep. Bela Fleck is currently in Australia, playing African music (he also released an album of classical music a few years ago), so Classic FM have been giving him plenty of airplay. But at first the Drive announcer sounded apologetic to her listeners, promising they wouldn’t be playing bluegrass banjo. My reaction was to laugh at the stations short memories. In 1991, they were playing bluegrass in the Drive slot, and much more.

Back then, the Drive slot was hosted by future ABC radio head honcho, Sue Howard. She played a program of “adult contemporary” music. Practically, this meant no classical music at all; instead I heard a hodge-podge of jazz, electronic music (usually soundtracks or soundscapes), funk, non-mainstream songs, plus a plethora of instrumental music which fell though the crevices of the ranges of genres. Some musicians were well-known, but the choices less known: on the release of a Peter Gabriel Best-of, they played the beautifully haunting Mercy Street; definitely not a pop song.

And they played Bela Fleck. Blu-Bop was the first tune I heard. I loved it. A week later, they played one of Fleck’s earlier bluegrass tunes. I was confused, unable to square the musician to the two different genres. It took a different bluegrass track a few weeks later (the track Natchez Trace) to finally realise the improvising on bluegrass meant it was a form of high-paced acoustic jazz. It was my first lesson in the interconnectedness of music. It wouldn’t be my last.

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