Pop Life

The Whole Wide World: Vieux Farka Touré's

The son of the late, great Ali Farka Touré definitely does not live under his father's shadow. After his impressive self-titled debut two years ago, he emerges with Fondo (Six Degrees) , a disc that explores and expands Malian blues with a more global perspective.

Since his first disc came out, Touré has been engaged in a whirlwind of activity - just last year, he went on extensive US tours and also appeared alongside Pee Wee Ellis, Fred Wesley and Senegalese multi-instrumentalist Cheik Lô on Say It Loud: I'm Black And I'm Proud, a tribute to James Brown that included a concert at New York's Lincoln Center. If that wasn't enough to keep him busy, he also contributed to the In The Name Of Love: Africa Celebrates U2 compilation with a very personal cover of "Bullet The Blue Sky."

"Bullet The Blue Sky"

On his new CD, Touré seems to have been influenced by music he's heard on the road: "Diaraby Magni" pays homage to the roots reggae of Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, while "Chérie Lé" has a clear Brooklyn vibe, thanks to Tim Keiper's rock-inflected drumming.

Not that Touré has drifted from his native African roots - one of the most beautiful moments on the disc is the slow-tempo "Paradise," which features Toumani Diabaté on the kora, a 21-string, harp-like instrument commonly used by West African musicians. Another highlight is "Slow Jam," a blues piece in which Touré showcases his strong improvisational skills.

We emailed with Touré about Fondo, comparisons to his father's music and the possibility of playing in Houston:

Rocks Off: This new disc sounds much more electric than the debut --- was this intentional?

Vieux Farka Touré: Well, of course the first album was my first album, so the sound is to my ear now pretty basic. I didn't know anything about recording when I did that album, and that was in 2005. Since then I've been on the road about eight months out of the year and I've heard all kinds of music and met all kinds of musicians, so naturally this new album reflects that. And remember - even though my name is Vieux ("old" in French), I'm only 28, so of course I'm influenced by all the music I listen to - rock, hip-hop, reggae ...

RO: Ever since you made the first record, have you been more influenced by Western music? I noticed some rock drumming there...

VFT: As I said before, I've absorbed a lot of different types of music as I've been traveling around the world. But I've always loved what you call Western rock - Phil Collins is one of my favorite musicians. Bryan Adams...50 Cent...that's stuff I like and listen to. My drummer is from New York - but he's the same drummer who played on the first album. Maybe my music is just becoming more rock, so his drumming is too.

RO: I saw you at the Say It Loud: James Brown Tribute in New York ---- how did it feel to be part of that moment?

VFT: That whole experience was so great - to play every night with legendary musicians like Pee Wee Ellis, Fred Wesley, playing that incredible music. I mean, everyone in Africa knows James Brown, and there I was playing his music with his musicians and backing vocalists. And when Pee Wee asked if they could play one of my songs, that was amazing.

RO: What have been your biggest musical influences...?

VFT: My father, of course.

RO: How do you feel when people compare your music to that of your father?

VFT: I know that will always be the case; I am Ali's son, and proud to be his son...and I play the guitar. But it's sort of like comparing apples and oranges - both are fruit, but each is quite different from the other. My father made basically traditional music, and was a musician the likes of which the world may never see again. I make my own music, with one foot in tradition and one foot in the future, and people will at some point hear that for themselves.

RO: Finally --- do you have plans to play in Houston someday?

VFT: I'm sure I will. I tour so much and so often, there is every chance I'll see every city in America before I'm done.


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Ernest Barteldes