April 13, 2010

The Sun Interviews Vieux Farka Touré

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Vieux Farka Touré’s show at The Haunt April 11 turned Sunday into anything but lazy. The Malian guitarist and singer — son of famed guitarist Ali Farka Touré — and his excellent outfit charmed the crowd last Sunday with their unique melodies and unbounded enthusiasm. Hippies swayed, hipsters nodded and ultimately the music proved too irresistible for the audience to refrain from frenetic dancing that broke out towards the end of the set. Touré and his band were even gracious enough to share the stage with a particularly … enthusiastic member of the crowd.

Known throughout Africa, and rapidly gaining popularity elsewhere, Touré proved Sunday that he deserves all the praise he receives. With his second album Fondo — a work which fully showcases his skill and eclectic inspirations — Touré has really come into his own. Fondo, which appropriately means “The Road,” was a great leap from his debut album, which was much more traditional. Fondo, though a sophomoric effort, was in some respects the first time Touré really introduced himself, his songwriting, and his distinctive sound to the public.

Touré’s incredible guitar skill, elegant voice and clear enthusiasm for performance made the songs from Fondo even more memorable and poignant live. Judging by Sunday’s show, critics’ label of Touré as Mali’s guitar hero seems well founded. The guitar solos were the definite highlight of the night, and as mentioned earlier, Touré sounds even better in person than on his album — a fact which is unfortunately the reverse for many artists of today.

If Jimi Hendrix had looked to West Africa for inspiration instead of India, the result might have produced Touré’s soulful shredding. For the older Ithacans who made it to ’69’s Woodstock, Sunday’s show probably made it seem as though Hendrix lived again.

Before the performance, the Sun spoke to Touré via e-mail while he was on tour in Europe to ask all about his new album, musical inspirations and hopes for the “world music” genre:

SUN: What were you trying to achieve with your second album Fondo?

VIEUX FARKA TOURÉ: My first album was my FIRST album, so the sound is — to my ear at least — now pretty basic. […] Since [the first album] I’ve been on the road about 8 months out of the year and I’ve heard all kinds of music and met all kinds of musicians, so naturally the new album reflects that.

I just knew I needed to make this a different album, a different sound, and that this second album had to be better. I think it’s a pretty good reflection of what I’ve learned over the past couple of years.

SUN: Which song off Fondo means the most to you personally, and why?

VFT: “FAFA,” for sure. The notion of “fafa” in our culture is fundamental and profound — it’s the  deepest, strongest bond between humans. It’s stronger than blood, milk, any family bond.  The word actually means “breast” but in a totally metaphorical way. “Fafa” is like the friendship between my father and Nick Gold: friends/brothers/absolute partners in every aspect of life. In Mali, we believe you can’t live without “fafa.”

SUN: Your music clearly has many influences, how would you describe your musical style?

VFT: My mentor and godfather Toumani Diabate baptized my music “koroboro rock” — “koroboro” means “black African” in our main dialect. I guess that kind of sums it up — my music is basically African but I mix it up with a little reggae, some salsa, some rock, some m’balax, some blues — all the music I listen to, like people my age everywhere in the world — and it comes out my own cocktail. I’d like to think that everyone who listens to my music finds something that pleases them.

SUN: Who are some of your favorite musicians, including American musicians?

VFT: Everybody always laughs when I say I have always loved Phil Collins. Bryan Adams writes great songs. I’m a huge fan of Corey Harris, Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal — and I’m pretty excited as we’ll be doing a Western U.S. tour with Taj in October. I love the band the Dirty Projectors — we played some shows with them last Fall. And I listen to Wilco on the road these days too. Of course I also listen to a lot of Malian music, and love Alpha Blondy’s latest “Best Of” CD …

SUN: Do you enjoy performing live? What has been your most exciting show to date?

VFT: I live for the moment I get on stage — it is such an incredible rush. And then the moment when you feel the audience begin to get into the music, and the energy just rises. It’s so cool!

My most exciting show? Hard to say, there have been so many — maybe at Bonnaroo? Also playing at the Sydney Festival this past January for about 20,000 people, with my mentor Toumani Diabate. We don’t cross paths that often in concert, and this was really magical.

But the most exciting show in my life will surely be the Kick Off Concert for the World Cup in Soweto June 10 — we’ll be there with Shakira, The Black Eyed Peas, my sister Angélique Kidjo, my pal Vusi Mahlasela, Alicia Keys and there will be three Malian groups playing (Tinariwen, Amadou & Mariam and myself). They say it will be televised to over a billion viewers — I can’t even imagine that!

SUN: Your father was famous in the U.S., and with current artists like you and Amadou et Mariam having a lot of success here too what potential do you see for “world music” infiltrating American pop music charts?

VFT: I sure hope there is a huge potential — I plan to be an infiltrator myself!!!!

Indeed, on Sunday the “infiltration” had already begun, as Touré and his band’s performance made fans out of all present. And with Touré’s rightful claim to being an African musician that is “globally connected but deeply proud of its ancient heritage” (as said on his website), “world music” could not hope for a better ambassador.

Original Author: Hannah Stamler