An interview with Vieux Farka Touré at Shambala Festival, 2012.
By Louise Ungless
Described as the ‘Hendrix of the Sahara’, Malian guitar virtuoso Vieux Farka Touré is carving a new path for Mali’s desert blues sound. Whilst remaining true to the roots of his father’s music, he uses elements of rock, Latin music and other African influences.
“I like to take traditional and modern music and mix them together” says Touré. “I’m not Hendrix or anybody” he says, “just Vieux Farka Touré”. I was keen to find out what the guitarist thought about this nick name. “This is what everyone says” he laughs, “this is what they call me, the Jimi Hendrix of the Sahara…I say OK, this is my new name again. Its not so bad”.
Vieux Farka Touré originally started out as a percussionist, and also apprenticed with Toumani Diabaté on the kora. “Toumani’s a big musician. Very good musician, he’s not just a kora player… He taught me to play what he plays”. Touré still likes to play kora, but it’s evident that his heart belongs to the guitar.
The musician has been hammering the festival circuit this summer, playing consecutive days in a row. I asked him what he thought of Shambala Festival. “I love this festival, it’s very interesting. They give you something – the power in what you do and perform. That’s very good… The audience is also very good. They’re thankful and they have fun”. The guitarist has been extremely busy and sits before me looking rather tired, having played at a festival the night before Shambala’s late headlining performance. He also had another festival lined up for the following night.
The crowd at Shambala certainly were thankful for his performance, singing along with Touré’s performance. Most people, including myself, were not aware of what they were singing, so I took the opportunity to ask. “They sang ‘love’” he says, “I sing in my song; it’s not black or white, everybody’s the same, you have to be together.” Touré sings a lot about what we have in this life; “the problems… everything like this”. On the whole, he sings what he feels strongly about. “I think sometimes people have to know what’s happening in this world, and what they don’t know. The musician is like a journalist, we give information, we let people know what’s happening”.
Touré is also one for enjoying musical collaborations, recently releasing The Tel Aviv Session under the name of The Touré-Raichel Collective with Israeli keyboardist Idan Raichel. I asked Touré how this unique project came about.
“I didn’t know Idan before, I just saw him in the airport. He knew me but I didn’t know him. He said ‘ohhh I know you, how are you?’ We exchanged phone numbers, email etc. We kept emailing, calling and became friends. He said ‘Ok, would you like to come to Tel Aviv?’”. This was two years later, when Raichel became the curator of a world music series at the Tel Aviv Opera House. Touré performed the first concert. “I went there and played. We didn’t want to go to sleep after the concert, so we jammed a bit. We played for one hour and a half, to two hours”. After what was a heavy jam session, Raichel later called Touré to say that what they played in the jam session would make a very nice, beautiful album. Surprised, Touré said “What did you say?!” Of course he agreed; “If you say that then yes, no problem!”. So in 2012, an acoustic, spontaneous and improvised recording session too place.
I asked him whether recording the album took the form of an improvised jam session. “Yes, it was like the jam session in Tel Aviv, for sure”. This surely must make recording an extremely enjoyable performance, so I asked whether he prefers recording in the studio or performing on stage. “Recording and performing is the same. You know what you know and you play what you play”.
Touré is currently working on a solo album. “Maybe traditional music. Not only traditional acoustic music, but groove also. Next year it will come out I think.” This is certainly something to look forward to. And can we expect further collaborations from the guitarist? “I love collaborations, but it’s not easy you know, to have good musicians like Idan. There are not many people” He’s certainly right, it’s not everyday where you come across a talented musician, you play together and share a musical understanding. This is why the Tel Aviv Session is a record that is one of a kind and and stunningly beautiful. However, Touré does have aspirations to collaborate with a number of musicians, including Dave Matthews and many more.
Vieux Farka Touré has played at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in front of a billion people in Johannesburg, South Africa, and has so far collaborated with a number of famous musicians, including his late father, the legendary Malian guitar player Ali Farka Touré. Representing a generation with new opportunities, he’s taking the sound of desert blues to a new level, wowing both audiences and fellow talented musicians throughout the world.