Vieux Farka Toure
Vieux Farka Toure
(World Village USA)
First Appeared in The Music Box, January 2008, Volume 15, #1
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Thu January 24, 2008, 02:30 PM CST
The death of Ali Farka Toure in early 2006 left a void in the world of music that has yet to be fully understood and appreciated. Armed with only an acoustic guitar and a deep, commanding voice, Toure brought thousands of years worth of oral tradition out of the deserts of Mali to audiences around the globe. He was revered as both a griot (an oral historian) and a musician in his own country, and for almost 20 years, his Timbuktu-meets-John Lee Hooker-at-the-crossroads style of performance caused a sensation at folk, jazz, and guitar festivals throughout the Western world. Ranked by Rolling Stone as one of the best guitarists of all time, Toure won two Grammy awards ó for Talking Timbuktu, his 1994 album with Ry Cooder, and for In the Heart of the Moon, his final collaboration with Malian kora player Toumani Diabate. In addition to being a great musician and cultural ambassador, Toure nobly spent the last few years of his life as the mayor of Niafunke, his village, where he spent his own money upgrading roads, building canals, and campaigning for safe drinking water.
Clearly, Vieux Farka Toure, Aliís son, has some big shoes to fill, and, for the most part, he does an admirable job on his self-titled debut. If Vieuxís father could have had his way, this record would never have come out at all. Deeply stung by the hardships he experienced before signing with World Circuit in 1986, Ali Farka Toure wanted his son to become a soldier instead of a musician because of the guaranteed employment that the military would have provided. This forced Vieux to practice his music in secret, playing the Calabash along with his fatherís records. Finally, in 1999, in open defiance of his dad, he picked up a guitar and enrolled at the National Arts Academy in Bamako, Mali in order to study music. Diabate convinced the elder Toure to accept Vieuxís decision to pursue a career in the arts. He also acted as a mentor for Vieux, and he hired him to perform in his ensemble before Ali finally invited him to join his group.
Vieux traveled the world playing music with his father and Diabate before embarking upon a tour of South Africa and France on his own in 2005. Shortly thereafter, he decided that it was time to go into the studio to record his own album. Diabate lends his majestic kora playing to two of the resulting collectionís tracks, and Aliís guitar parts on the effort represent the final recordings he made before succumbing to bone cancer in March 2006.
On his debut, Vieux Farka Toure essentially follows in his fatherís musical footsteps. Perhaps he decided to play it safe by sticking to Aliís trademark, desert-blues sound, or maybe the album is meant as a tribute to his dadís legacy. Whatever the reason may be, Vieux sounds completely comfortable and in total control on each of the tracks. Not surprisingly, the cuts with either Diabate or Ali Farka Toure sound the most like traditional Malian music, while some of the other songs hint at directions that Vieux may choose to explore in the future. Traces of funk, hip-hop, and reggae can be heard, and these touches expand upon standard Malian grooves by infusing the material with a kind of subliminal dance beat.
At this point, Vieuxís musical future is anyoneís guess. Throughout his self-titled debut, he demonstrates a mastery and intuitive understanding of African blues that is wonderful to hear. While itís difficult, at times, to distinguish Vieuxís playing from his fatherís, this is not necessarily a bad thing, especially at this stage of his career. Whenever he does step into untrodden musical territory, listeners tacitly understand that Vieux is an artist who is just beginning to test his mettle and express himself. Beneath the surface of these songs, there are undercurrents of musical ideas and rhythms that flow forth, begging to be explored further somewhere down the road.
The offspring of famous parents always are held under tremendous scrutiny, and the realization of Vieux Farka Toureís debut must not have been an easy undertaking. Audiences are fickle and unpredictable, and musicians from Julian Lennon to Stephen Marley have learned that the public judges them in the light of the accomplishments of their forebears as much as on their own abilities. By honoring his fatherís musical style ó while at the same time indicating his seriousness and commitment as an artist in his own right ó Vieux Farka Toure has succeeded in a very difficult task. Thank goodness he didnít choose to listen to his parentís advice. The world doesnít need another soldier. It needs guitarists like him. Somewhere out there, Ali must be proud.
Vieux Farka Toure is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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