Vieux Farka Toure is touring around America and Europe this year. Art Beat caught up with him in Washington at the 930 Club.
As the son of the Grammy-winning Malian guitarist Ali Farka Toure, it wasn’t a surprise that Vieux Farka Toure gravitated to the guitar. His father was named one of the top 100 guitarists of all time by Rolling Stone magazine and is renowned for highlighting the connection between Western Sahara music and North American blues, a genre now referred to as Desert Blues.
Toure’s father was initially wary of his son following in his famous footsteps and preferred that he pursue a more secure future as a soldier. However, with time it became clear that he could not deny his son’s passion for music. Toure enrolled in the Institute National des Arts in Bamako, Mali where he studied percussion and then later the kora, a harp unique to West Africa with 21 strings.
While Toure does take musical inspiration from his father, he says he also looks to many other artists. Among them is Toumani Diabate, the famed Malian kora player with whom he apprenticed with. “I try to adapt songs that Diabate plays on the kora for the electric guitar to create something in between the two,” says Toure.
Toure says he prefers not to define the kind of music that he plays as a specific genre. Instead he strives to perpetually mix different styles of music and fuses rock and roll, jazz, blues, reggae, and traditional music from Northern Mali together. In Mali, Toure says he gets mixed reviews from elders for mixing traditional music with contemporary edge. Some embrace his melding of old and new, American and African; others wish he would apply his musical talent to playing strictly Malian music.
On his third studio album, “The Secret,” Toure blends American and African blues, soul and funk, producing a unique hybrid of melodies.
“To make this album I had to dig deep into the secrets of my own history and my country’s culture in order to move the music forward,” Toure says. The album was recorded in Mali and Brooklyn, N.Y., and is a creative homage to his father’s signature sound, layered with new, distinct contemporary flares. While various artists were considered to collaborate, Toure narrowed his extensive list down to a handful of unique musicians including Dave Matthews, Derek Trucks and Ivan Neville.
Some critics were initially taken aback when Toure departed from the Desert Blues that his legendary father helped define. Yet, they also recognized his role as a global ambassador, carrying on and sharing his African culture with the world, while also bringing the world back to Africa.