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Vieux Farka Touré – Les Racines

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Vieux Farka Touré

Les Racines

World Circuit

2022

Vieux Farka Touré, the ‘Hendrix of the Sahara’ and son of the late Ali Farka Touré, widely acclaimed as Africa’s greatest ever guitarist, has, over his five solo album releases to date, established himself as an illustrious musician who has emphatically widened the boundaries of West African music. With his latest release, Les Racines, which translates as ‘the roots’, the title says it all, as Vieux returns with music which reconnects with the traditional northern Mali Songhai music, introduced to the wider world by his father and given the Western label ‘Desert Blues’.

This returning to the roots is not the only example of the completing of a full circle, as it is also Vieux’s debut album for World Circuit, the label for which his father recorded from 1987, with the release of the eponymous Ali Farka Touré, following previous work with Sonafric, until his death. Not only has this long-held ambition to be on the same label as his father now been fulfilled, but also the album has been mixed by famed Jerry Boys, (possibly in Bodmin), who also worked on many of Ali’s albums.

Ali Farka Touré won three Grammy Awards with World Circuit. Recorded in Bamako in Vieux’s home studio, named in honour of his father, Les Racines is so good that it would not be fanciful to think that it might also receive similar acclaim.

Born in 1981 in Niafunke, a town situated on the River Niger about 100 miles south of Timbuktu in Mali, Vieux’s father disapproved of his son’s wish to become a musician, even though he himself had defied his own parents in so doing. Ignoring this advice, Vieux was initially a drummer and calabash player at Mali’s Institut National des Arts, but he secretly began playing the guitar in 2001. Shortly before Ali’s death, and thanks to help from family friend Toumani Diabaté, the master kora player, Vieux received his father’s blessing to become a musician, indeed he contributed to Vieux’s self-titled debut album.

Subsequent albums saw Vieux working hard to establish his own musical identity, with various and varied collaborations taking West African music into previously uncharted waters, with his last, live, album Samba, released in 2017.

When the Covid pandemic hit in 2020 the lack of touring opportunities hit this prolific live performance artist hard, but at the same time gave him the opportunity to buckle down and work tirelessly for two years on a project that had actually been in the pipeline for much longer. As he explains, “I’ve had a desire to do a more traditional album for a long, long time. It’s important to me and to Malian people that we stay connected to our roots and our history… Returning to the roots of this music is a new departure for me and I’ve never spent so long or worked so hard on an album … I took a lot of time to reflect on how to do it and put it together.”

Vieux is joined on the album by a host of guest musicians including Moussa Dembelé, percussion, Toumani Diabate’s younger brother Madou Sidiki Diabaté, who plays the kora on the title track and on Lahidou, Kandia Fa, n’goni, Marshall Henry, bass, Souleymane Kane, calabash, Modibo Mariko, bass Cheick Tidiane Seck, keyboards and Madou Traoré on flute. Additionally, Amadou Bagayoko, from Amadou & Miriam, can be heard playing guitar on Gabou Ni Tie.

The ten songs on the album are all original compositions and speak to a range of topics, including personal reflections on love, family and remembrance alongside contemporary social issues such as respect, unity and compassion, important in a country where high illiteracy rates mean that music is the prime method of disseminating knowledge and information.

The scintillating opening track, Gabou Ni Tie, featuring meandering dual guitar lines and echoey call-and-response vocals, tells of a young girl who spends her time wandering, ignoring the advice of her family and keeping bad company. The song asks her to conform, as the preservation of traditional values rely upon respect for both parents and the whole community.

Behind the mesmeric groove of Ngala Kaourene, with Madou’s flute and esoteric backing vocals from Kadiatou Bah, a sound which will no doubt resonate with lovers of Tamikrest, Terakaft or Tinariwen, hardly surprising given the close connections between Songhai and Tuareg music, there is an important call for unity and peace in the lyrics as Vieux implores the differing ethnic groups to reconcile their differences to deliver Mali from its crisis.

Similar sentiments are expressed in both Be Together and Tinnondirene, where Vieux, once again, makes compassionate calls for understanding and unity. In the former, a percussion-heavy, entrancing plea to end the interminable wars, whilst the latter has coruscating guitar to the fore and Vieux’s almost hollered vocals calling for a formal framework of consultation to help in the process of national reconciliation in Mali.

Sandwiched between the above is the title track, Les Racines, which delineates the full circle alluded to previously. Having established his own identity, Vieux now returns, with pride, and no small measure of authority, to play music which connects modernity with a healthy respect for the past and tradition. A stripped-back tune, featuring guitar, kora and percussion, this is nevertheless a sonically involved piece, layer upon layer of instrumentation creating a truly beguiling, melodic sound.

The importance of ‘family’ features prominently on the album too. Adou, named after his son, and dedicated not only to him but “for all the children of the Earth” features more blistering guitar work from Vieux and glorious vocals from Kadiatou, whilst Flany Konare, a single taken from the release, a love song in the absolute sense, is imbibed with an intricate, cyclical guitar pattern, intertwined with n’goni and calabash. With L‘Âme,(the soul), an instrumental which is a tribute to his father, the overlaid textures, with flute prominent in the mix, produce, at times, a sound redolent of Chinese guoyue.

The two closing tracks return to earlier themes. Firstly Lahidou, a glorious song imploring the listener to never make a promise that cannot be kept, has a beguiling melody which ensnares and entrances in equal measure, and finally, Ndiehene Direne, which displays Vieux’s trademark guitar virtuosity to the full over complex, labyrinthine layers of sound, as the strident, at times spoken, lyrics call for an end to hostilities, solutions to problems and a rebuilding of Mali through unity.

Vieux has stated that “The album is an homage to my father but, just as importantly, to everything he represented and stood for.”  Les Racines is not only an album of which Ali Farka Toure would have been proud to witness the traditions and beliefs he espoused and embraced being perpetuated, but it also confirms that musically Vieux is now his distinguished father’s rightful heir.

Preorder ‘Les Racines’ on CD, LP & digital – out June 10th

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