Vieux Farka Toure: Wonderfully put

“The musical heritage of Mali is very deep. It doesn’t go back a hundred or five hundred years. No, no, no-it goes back thousands of years,” states Malian Vieux Farka Touré, a world renowned musician, whose newest album, Mon Pays (translating to ‘my nation’) was released in late May. It is undoubtedly the beauty of his homeland that he begs to not be forgotten, even with Islamist extremist threats to ban music wherever possible. “Music for us is life. When we have no music, it is like we have no life. Without music we are robbed of our identity.”

Returning to the United States on tour in support of Mon Pays, Vieux Farka Touré will bring his dexterous guitar skills, mosaic of international influences, and most importantly, love for his homeland to Bellingham. Talking with What’s Up! about his return to the U.S., he said everybody “has a nice time together, dancing, enjoying the music even if they don’t understand the words,” as well as some of the best Jamaican food he has ever had. What we lack in authentic Caribbean cuisine, Bellingham undoubtedly makes up for in grooving like no one is watching.

Vieux Farka Touré is the son of legendary, celebrated Malian guitarist Ali Farka Touré, however his path was not set by this unique upbringing. The musician lifestyle had exposed his father to a more difficult time than he had wanted for his son, whom he had hoped would become a soldier. Music was not a choice for the young Touré, describing that in regards to music, “my path was the path that God wanted for me.”

After the blessing of his father shortly before his passing, Touré has not ceased. “Since then it has been a very straight path for me, always pushing forward in my career.” In doing this, he has created a name for himself beyond Ali Farka Tourés’ legend as one of the greatest guitarists of his time, and gestures at his own claim at this title.

Heralded as “The Hendrix of the Sahara,” Touré has been playing guitar since 2001, secretly at the time, as a drummer and calabash player at Mali’s Institut National des Arts. Since then, he has released albums influenced by West African music, the American Blues, and Latin music, performed at the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, and collaborated with Israeli sensation Idan Raichel on The Tel Aviv Session, which is considered one of the best collaborations in international music history.

His latest recorded masterpiece Mon Pays takes the modern American listener on a journey to appreciate Mali, in its richness and history, only possible through the matured, acoustic subtleties Touré provides.

“I wanted to push myself to groove hard and create a beautiful homage to Mali without simply rocking out,” Touré said of the recording, contrasted by punchier, more blues/rock-heavy albums of his past.

Now more so than ever, Touré is accessible to the American audience, with a sound that digs into the past at influences that; modern guitarists, blues and folk artists have attempted to recreate over the past century.

“Before recorded history we were playing instruments and composing the foundation of blues.” Touré calls upon the tradition of the Griots in Mali, their founding King Sundiata Keita, “When they were building pyramids in Egypt, we were making the music that was later to become all the world’s popular music.”

The theme of Mon Pays captures what is currently in Vieux Farka Touré’s heart and the mastery of his craft at his fingertips. His message is proud, remarking that, “Mali is beautiful. We must not ignore what is happening there, because it is the beauty and the dignity of mankind that we are ignoring.” Touré hoped to bring to light the rich history of Mali, not to distract from the current political struggles but to educate the world on a culture much deeper and richer than the daily headlines.

Touré’s live performances have impressed upon audiences large and small the sustained importance of improvisation in live performance. Though his songs and messages are often simple, offering instrumental reflections on ideas such as the English-titled track “Future,” the intricacies in which they are communicated can only be felt when heard. Touré’s vocal talents often shine, further than compliment, but he remains rooted in musicianship as a guitarist. “Improvisation is always at the heart of my performance. I am firstly a guitar player, so it is my guitar that must be the star of the show.”

You can see Vieux Farka Touré at the Wild Buffalo on June 27. Tickets can be purchased at holdmyticket.com. For more information, check out www.vieuxfarkatoure.com.