Layers and layers of legends make up Voyageur, a new installment of previously unreleased recordings by the late Ali Farka Touré and some of his friends and collaborators. Oumou Sangaré, Afel Bocoum, Hama Sankaré, Pee Wee Ellis, and Ali’s son Vieux Farka Touré are just a few of the renowned musicians on hand here with the legendary guitarist. At the production helm are Nick Gold and the younger Touré. It’s almost needless to say that Voyageur is an absolute delight, but this is an album and a crew worthy of proper recognition and full exploration.
Previously archived for no particular project, each track on Voyageur feels fresh and relevant. The simultaneous ease and intricacy Ali Farka Touré brought to his guitar playing throughout his career, a continued source of inspiration for musicians worldwide, rings out on every track. Ali truly has a presence here, flowing through crystal clear channels from the 1990s to the present day with no vigor lost along the way. This is a testament to the recording and production teams of past and present and the stellar musicianship of each person involved, with Ali both the most consummate of professionals and the most natural performers.
If anyone is a match for Ali Farka Touré in terms of star power and sheer skill, of course, it’s Oumou Sangaré, and her presence on three of Voyageur’s nine tracks is unquestionably a high point on an album with no real lows. On “Bandoloboourou”, she matches Ali’s triumphant verses and plugged-in riffs with straightforward majesty. “Cherie” brings them together again, trading off sweet verses with one another and loops and whorls of guitar. Their final collaboration here, “Sadjona”, is a prescient tribute to Ali Farka Touré that envisions his death years before it happens. Sangaré takes the vocal lead alongside guitars from Ali and Vieux; joining the core group is an especially full ensemble warmed by Pee Wee Ellis and Josh Arcoleo on saxophone.
Ellis returns with Steve Williamson on the next track, an electric version of “Sambadio”, in which Ali is once again center stage, even amid the hefty horns and Oumar Touré’s echoing congas. It’s an entirely different take on the song compared to the acoustic version early on in Voyageur, in which ngoni from Bassekou Kouyaté, Mama Sissoko, and calabash from Hama Sankaré and Souleymane Kané lend themselves to an earthier sound. Both renditions feature Sankaré and Afel Bocoum on impassioned backing vocals.
From lively cuts like “Safari” and “Kenouna” to sensual “Malahani” and ardent closer “Kombo Galia”, Voyageur is as complete and wondrous an album as anything Ali Farka Touré put out during his lifetime, in no small part due to the work of his son. On the heels of last year’s Ali, a collaboration with Khruangbin, Vieux Farka Touré is continuing to carry his father’s torch and use it to shed light on the rich Ali archives that remain. Decades after its initial tracks were laid down, Voyageur‘s painstaking journey has finally reached the milestone of public release, and it deserves to fall on grateful ears.