The Beautiful Music of the Son of Ali Farka Toure: Vieux Farka Toure

By Daniel Garrett

Vieux Farka Toure
(self-titled collection)
Produced by Eric Herman
Executive Producers: Eric Herman, Jesse Brenner
Modiba/World Village, 2007

Vieux Farka Toure’s self-titled debut album is a beautiful piece of music. Vieux Farka Toure is the son of the celebrated and now deceased Mali musician Ali Farka Toure, who appears on his son’s album, recorded shortly before the elder’s death: and Vieux Farka Toure has said his father passed on to him both music and wisdom. The guitarist and singer and sometimes accordionist Ali Farka Toure’s work includes the albums African Blues, The River, The Source, Talking Timbuktu, Niafunke, In the Heart of the Moon, Red and Green, and Savane, and his music was known for its Malian correspondences with the blues. Ali Farka Toure, a musician who was born into a long established African family, was compared to R.L. Burnside, John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Big Joe Williams. After Ali Farka Toure died, a (March 7, 2006) article—“African star Ali Farka Toure dies”—quoted him as having said, “I’m from Timbuktu, and I can tell you that it’s right in the centre of the world.” Ali Farka Toure was known for relishing Africa, which he had been known to describe as his home, his inspiration, and his joy; and he loved farming the land. (The principal crops in Mali, in western Africa, are cotton, corn, millet, and various vegetables; and in terms of farm life or agricultural industry, cattle, goats, and sheep are cultivated.) The BBC article recalled, “During the 1990s rebellion by the Tuareg people of northern Mali, Toure was seen as something of a peacemaker by singing in all of the region’s languages—Songhai, Fulani and the Tuareg’s Tamashek.” Ali Farka Toure was elected mayor of Niafunke, a town in Mali, in 2004, two years before he died, according to the web pages of World Music Central, pages I read in late April 2007. Ali Farka Toure’s son Vieux Farka Toure, a musician of guitar and calabash, studied at the Arts Institute in Bamako, and Vieux Farka Toure considers his own music a force that can oppose hypocrisy and speak for truth. I do not know the language, or languages, in which Vieux Farka Toure’s songs are written so I cannot discuss their meaning: I can only suggest something of what they sound like and their effect on one listener. This is music of many delicate notes, notes like softly splashing rain, refreshment for a dry season. The guitar, percussion, and wind instrument (a flute?), and a pleasantly droning voice, in the song “Sangare” instantly conjure a mellow mood, and images of a dusty plain. (Mali, in a region that was once the location of the Malinke and Songhai empires, has flat sandy plains, and hills; and its resources include gold, salt, limestone, uranium, bauxite, and iron ore; and Vieux Farka Toure’s family in a time long ago was known for its involvement with Spanish Moors in the gold trade in Mali. I have seen a photograph of Vieux Farka Toure wearing a traditional African robe and holding a guitar in a small village, dust beneath his feet, little children nearby, and a few trees in the distance.) On Vieux Farka Toure’s album, in the musical piece called “Dounia,” there is a clicking rhythm, with one set of similarly sounding notes following a different set of notes, again and again, with a significant variety of tone in voice and music, a pleasing texture. Performing “Tabara,” Ali Farka Toure and Vieux Farka Toure engage in what seems a duet that produces heavier, twangier notes than in the other songs. (Ali Farka Toure also performs on “Diallo.”) “Ana” has a forceful vocal interpretation, and “Ma Hine Cocore” reminds me of something Native American, while “Toure de Niafunke” is a collaboration with the Malian musician Toumani Diabate, a former collaborator of Vieux Farka Toure’s father, and a player of the kora, a stringed instrument in the calabash family of instruments, a harp-lute. There is a nearly Spanish percussive rhythm to “Wosoubour,” and the song “Courage,” featuring Issa Bamba, who has a high fast-moving voice and has begun gaining fame for his own Malian music, is a song that reminds me of both Algerian rai and American blues (Mali is southwest of Algeria). The last piece is the longest, “Diabate.” Vieux Farka Toure has recorded a splendid collection, one that is complex, relaxing, and warm.

Daniel Garrett is currently a New York resident, and his work has appeared in Africa Report, The African, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, The Compulsive Reader, Offscreen, Review of Contemporary Fiction, and World Literature Today. Garrett wrote about the work of African film director Ousmane Sembene for the online film magazine Offscreen, and he has commented on western films with African themes for Offscreen and The Compulsive Reader (Last King of Scotland); and Garrett’s commentary on African music—music by Femi Kuti and Angelique Kidjo—appeared on the web pages of The Compulsive Reader.