Guitarist believes world's musical roots, like himself, hail from Mali
CHAMPAIGN — Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Toure has collaborated with a number of musicians, among them the Israeli keyboardist-bandleader Idan Raichel.
Their first album together, "The Tel Aviv Session," won rave reviews, and the two musicians from disparate backgrounds continue to collaborate often.
"We just did a tour with the Toure-Raichel Collective in Europe, and we are working on a new album together," Toure said in an email interview.
But Raichel is not on Toure's current tour. It promotes Toure's new album, "Mon Pays," and will bring Toure back to Champaign-Urbana to headline the first of two Outside at the Research Park concerts this summer.
On this tour, Toure — often called the Jimi Hendrix of the Sahara — will perform with members of his quartet from Mali: Souleymane Kane on calabash; Mamadou Sidibe, bass; and Aly Magassa, accompanying guitar.
Opening for the Toure's band on Friday evening will be the local Mhondoro Rhythm Success, which blends Zimbabwean pop songs, regional music and electric guitar.
Toure and his quartet mates have performed together for a long time and they also are on "Mon Pays" — translation "My Country." The new album pays homage to Toure's home country, where the Tuareg people and Islamic rebels have fought since early 2012.
"While most people associate Toure with desert blue bands like Tinariwen, his rhythms are more eclectic, and this album is no exception, a mix of swaying, hypnotic songs peppered with upbeat numbers," a New York critic wrote.
While Toure has become one of Africa's best known musicians, his famed father did not want his son to follow in his footsteps.
"His father disapproved due to the pressures he had experienced being a musician," reads the bio on the younger Toure's website. "Rather, he wanted Vieux to become a soldier.
"But with help from family friend the kora maestro Toumani Diabat, Vieux eventually convinced his father to give him his blessing to become a musician shortly before Ali passed" in 2006.
For All Music Guide, Jeff Tamarkin noted that Toure is among a small number of famous musicians' children who have succeeded in their own right.
Tamarkin noted that Toure's debut album, released less than a year after his father died, is "such a triumph in every way that the question isn't whether he will carry on the legacy, but rather just how much further he will take it."
Tamarkin wrote that Vieux's guitar style — he plays both electric and acoustic — is reminiscent of his father's but hints at more:
"He's already a masterful player in his own right and he has his ear cocked toward the future, not only the past," Tamarkin said. "He is at once sensitive and soulful but can easily turn it around and unleash a fleet-fingered solo that is so spellbinding you'll find yourself thinking, blasphemous though it may be, that his dad could never do that."
While Toure's music is as distinctively Malian as his father's, it also "lurches forward, easily traversing the worlds of reggae, funk, rock, R&B and blues. In addition, Vieux is a talented songwriter with plenty to say," according to Tamarkin. "His compositions are grand and lush melodically and positive and spiritual lyrically, as well as sometimes humorous. He is also a more than passable singer."
Toure's also a humanitarian who works on non-musical projects, among them combatting malaria in Africa.
"I have started working closely with an orphanage back home to become their international ambassador and raise funds for them," Toure wrote. "I will be raising funds for refugees in Mali from the war in the North and also for the orphanage.
"As well, the Ali Farka Toure Foundation is always very busy in Niafunke, and I am often helping with that. They are always in need of more materials, water pumps, generators, etc. Too many projects, always!"
When not on the road, Toure spends most of his time in Bamako, the capital of Mali, and goes up to Niafunke, where he was born, whenever possible.
"But I am touring usually more than seven months of the year, so I am not anywhere on Earth for 'most of the time.' I am a citizen of the world," he said.
That means he has collaborated often with musicians from all over, most recently on stage with Taj Mahal in New Zealand and Habib Koite and Bassekou Kouyate in London.
What musicians would he most like to collaborate with but hasn't yet?
"I will say Jay-Z. Or Beyonce. Either one of them, or maybe both! I really like both of these artists, and I respect both of them very much, so for me it would be a lot of fun and very interesting to collaborate with them."
He also wouldn't mind working with jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgwater, who a few years ago released the album "Red Earth," her ode to Mali and Africa. Bridgewater once said in an interview with The News-Gazette that she is unsure of her ancestry but felt, when she visited Mali, that it was her ancestral home.
"I think she is probably right," Toure said. "Even if her ancestors were not from Mali specifically, her musical ancestors are from Mali, that is for sure.
"Almost all the world's musicians can trace their musical ancestry to Mali. The blues comes from Mali, and it was the blues that led to rock and jazz and funk and hip hop and soul music. So you can see all of this comes back to Mali.
"Mali has the deepest tradition of music in the world, in my opinion. The further we go into modernity, the deeper we all realize the tradition of music is in Mali."