Afro-pop Roars into the 21st Century
It must be tough to have a dad as iconic as Ali Farka Touré. Tougher still is entering the same field and trying to carve out a singular, recognizable niche. Vieux Farka Touré‘s third full-length album, a live recording with performances taken from a number of venues, aims to do just this. For the most part, he succeeds.
The album kicks off with “Fafa” from the album Fondo. Touré Junior is possessed of a rippling, liquid guitar tone that glides sinuously through the tune, and he is ably backed by a band containing a drum kit and additional percussion plus backing guitars and bass. The song doesn’t take long to cast its dreamy, multilayered spell. The follow-up “Slow Jam”, taken from the same record, keeps the vibe going. “Na Maimouna Poussaniamba”, not taken from any previous album, introduces a galloping beat, polyrhythmic drumming and a faster tempo.
Touré‘s voice, naturally enough, isn’t the seasoned croon of his father, but what it lacks in nuance it makes up for in energy. On the reggae-tinged “Diaraby Magni” and soulful “Souba Souba,” another pair of songs from Fondo, that voice weaves a hypnotic web of call and response.
The guitar playing is equally singular. Vieux trades his father’s languid verve for a brighter, harsher, altogether louder sound. Nowhere is this more evident than on “Walaidu”, a cooking-with-gas take on “Ai Du” from Ali’s landmark collaboration with Ry Cooder, Talking Timbuktu. Perhaps deciding that comparisons with his father are inevitable, Vieux takes on one of his father’s most epic tunes, recasting it in an even more epic, extended form. Nearly nine minutes long, the song becomes the first of a series of emotional and musical climaxes. Australian guitar virtuoso Jeff Lang fills the Cooder role, sliding and bending his way through a series of sometimes-spooky, sometimes-raunchy guitar licks that offset Touré‘s nimble picking, while the song as a whole builds an unstoppable head of steam. The relaxed vibe of the original version is exchanged here for a raucous one, with a result that’s every bit as compelling.
Nor is this the finale. The last two songs on the album are “Ai Haira” and “Cherie Le”, both taken from Fondo. Both top seven minutes and feature the by-now-customary six-string pyrotechnics that listeners expect. “Ai Haira” is built around a series of propulsive stop-and-start rhythms, while the stretched-out “Cherie Le” exchanges the original’s drum machines for organic sounds and gives the audience a chance to participate, which they appear reluctant to do. “Ah, we have very good singers tonight!” Touré compliments the crowd. He’s being nice. Then again, Vieux’s voice is itself pretty rough at times, and on “Ai Haira” especially he tends to slide all over the notes.
Like the audience for these shows, the listener comes away from this record more than satisfied. Vieux Farka Touré has proven himself a worthy musician and a budding global superstar, and with Live, he moves out of the shadow of his illustrious father. Let’s hope this is the sound of the new African century: joyful, confident, and boisterous.