Vieux Farka Touré doesn’t play “world music.” And even if he did, you wouldn’t know it. Like his late father, Ali Farka Touré, Vieux is a master of Malian folk. He practically owns the genre. But, what has probably made both Vieux and his father exceptionally well known is their uncanny ability to capture both Malian Folk and American Blues traditions in the same stanza.
That’s a difficult synergy to pull off. But it’s obvious immediately after you hit play when Vieux and his band start winding and weaving through the speakers. Vieux also peppers his music with Reggae, which is something that only adds to the richness of his music, and is a testament to Vieux’s versatility beyond his father’s reputation. He cites Afrobeat acts like Alpha Blondy and The Skatalites as “heroes.” These influences figure in Vieux’s work pretty prominently. Songs like “Ana”, from his 2007 self-titled LP, draw the connections. In “Ana”, Reggae’s driving force does the heavy lifting while Vieux’s signature vocals and guitar edge the song past anything easily categorized. The result is a track and an album that is alternately danceable and contemplative.
Vieux’s music grows up around you. And in this way it’s something of a living thing. Each listen will evoke different feelings. Touré’s “Dounia” exemplifies this uncanny wrinkle of his work. Vieux starts it out strong, with a time signature that takes a moment to feel comfortable with. But then the track catches steam, thanks to Vieux’s reverbed vocals, intoxicating guitar and animated base line. And then, as if by accident, you find yourself in the middle of the big finish, which adds another layer of percussion, flutes and even a xylophone. Vieux’s a pro.
Touré can surely be seen as a generational bridge connecting American and African blues music and culture, which is something Vieux’s father didn’t really have a chance to do. But Touré’s work stretches beyond even this depiction. Especially on his full length’s, Touré feels like such a capable experimenter. You get the sense listening to Touré that he probably realizes this or maybe that he has taken ownership of his unique position as a musician.
And so as it is with most great artists, Touré’s work stands on its own. It keeps pushing Touré farther, stretching his talents and introducing him to new collaborations with artists like Dave Matthews and guitarist John Scofield. Touré has his own way of describing the progression, “My music is more mature now, more evolved. It digs deeper into the past and pushes harder into the future as a result. This is a hard thing to explain, but hopefully the music speaks for itself. Do you want to know the secret? You have to listen to the album.” Or, you can do Vieux one better and just see him live.
- John Scherer