An African-pop fusion piece which works, designed to appeal to a Western audience.
Robin Denselow 2011
Still in his late 20s, Vieux Farka Touré already has an impressively brave career behind him. He dared to become a musician against the initial wishes of his legendary father, Ali Farka Touré; and he dared to use, and transform, the Malian desert blues style that had made his dad the best-loved guitarist in Mali and across West Africa. The young Vieux was influenced by Ali Farka’s stately, soulful and haunting playing, but developed a style of his own, matching electric guitar against bass, drums and Western influences, while still managing to keep a distinctively African edge to the music. In the process, he startled critics and sceptics alike by proving to be a singularly impressive talent.
His second album, Fondo, released just over two years ago, stressed his Malian heritage by including collaborations with the singer Afel Bocoum and the great kora player Toumani Diabaté – both of whom had worked with his father. This new set is rather different, although once again there are strong Malian influences. Vieux Farka makes use of traditional West African instruments, the n’goni and djembe, and the lengthy title-track is constructed around a slinky, compelling riff played by Ali Farka himself, shortly before his death. It’s a thoughtful, gently compelling instrumental track, remarkable for the way Vieux Farka blends his guitar work with his father’s style.
But the real surprise here is the inclusion of several well-known American musicians, and the way in which Vieux Farka edges towards the West while still sounding distinctively African. The bravest track, All the Same, is co-written by Dave Matthews, who adds laidback English vocals on a gently bluesy complaint about the dangers of money-grabbing women. It’s an African-pop fusion piece, unashamedly designed to appeal to a wider Western audience, but it actually works. Elsewhere, there’s a sturdy contribution from Derek Trucks, the slide guitar player once with The Allman Brothers Band, on the easy-going Aigna. There’s further impressive guitar work from the veteran John Scofield, best-known for his jazz playing alongside the likes of Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock; here, he shows that he can also handle African blues, on the classy and drifting Gido. Finally, there’s the album’s producer, Eric Krasno, yet another American guitarist and founder of the jazz-funk trio Soulive, who provides one of the most impressive solos of the set on Lakkal.
Where special guests don’t feature, Vieux Farka shows off his own playing on songs that often follow the same formula: starting with a burst of stuttering guitar work before easing into relaxed, rolling riffs and chanting vocals. His father would have approved.