Words Carinya Sharples Image credit Zeb Goodell
He's called the Hendrix of the Sahara and has wowed crowds around the world with his fresh take on the Malian music made famous by his father Ali Farka Touré.
Now, on the eve of an eagerly anticipated UK tour, Vieux Farka Touré tells ARISE about carving his own musical path in his latest album, The Secret; rocking WOMAD and the important legacy of his father in his music.
What can audiences expect from your tour? Or what do you hope to achieve?
It's been a long time since I have toured in the UK, so I want to reconnect with the public there. We had a great show with my new rock trio at WOMAD last summer, so I want to keep up that high energy on this tour. Good energy - there's nothing more than that when it comes to live music. I feel good about the energy of the rock trio.
On the tour you will play alongside Tim Keiper and Johann Berby, and you have collaborated with BLK JKS. Do you find fresh energy or inspiration playing with musicians of your generation? Or is age not important?
No, age isn't important to me. If you're 17 or 71 if you have the right feeling in music there is no problem, we can relate.
For your London concert, UK artist Oli Brown is opening for you. Will any other special guests join you during the tour?
Ahh, I never know what will happen! I think there will be some special guests playing with us, but I cannot tell you who now
Is it frustrating that the crowds you will play to in the UK will not generally understand the words of your songs? Or is it enough that they will appreciate the music?
For me it's enough if they get the feeling, feel the energy of the music. No one except the people in Mali understand the words in my music anyways. I'm very used to it. So the music must express the message just as much as the lyrics. It's a good challenge.
The Secret was called a bold change of direction, mostly because of collaborations with American artists such as Derek Trucks and John Scofield. Was this an attempt to open up your music to new audiences or did you just want to play with them?
I just wanted to do an album where I collaborated with other guitar players so we could have an exchange between African music and Western music. Derek, John, Dave Matthews - they are all guitarists I really respect and admire, so it was really just fun to experiment and make music with them.
Rolling Stone said these collaborations work because "the players come to his music [i.e. your music], not the other way around". Did you feel this too? Or did you feel stretched into new musical areas?
Yes, I think in this case we were asking them to come to my style more than the other way around. In most cases we gave the guests the songs very well developed, then they did their part, and we figured out what to add or take away to make the sound its best.
You have said your music is now more mature, more evolved. In what way? Do you feel it's less rough and unsure than before? That you're getting closer to making the music you want to?
I think I am moving forward with every new project but I have always made the music that I want to - but what I want changes and gets deeper.
What was the response in Mali to this musical departure?
The people in Mali loved the new album. When they heard the song with Dave Matthews people could not believe it.
Vieux's latest music video, All The Same (feat. Dave Matthews)
Are there any artists from Mali or elsewhere in Africa that you're itching to play or record with?
Yes - hundreds of them! I am very open to play with new people all the time, but I can't think of one person in particular right now.
Are there any lesser-known Malian artists that you would like to champion? Who are we missing out on?
The son of Toumani Diabaté, Sidiki Diabaté, is a very good young kora player. You should watch out for him!
Femi Kuti was also discouraged by his father to become a musician but earned his respect and pride by pursuing his dream anyway. How important was it to get your father's blessing to be a musician, before he sadly passed away?
It was enormous. It was everything. To have this blessing meant the entire world to me.
Do you feel your father's presence or spirit when you play music? How important is his legacy to your music?
Of course I can feel my father though music. His legacy is very important. My style is my style, his style is his style, but of course we are part of the same tradition. I am the next branch on the tree, that is all.
Do you still live in Mali? How does the country influence or affect your music?
Yes I still in Mali and I will always live in Mali. My music does not exist without Mali, period. It is my inspiration and my motivation.
What do you think of the title "the Hendrix of the Sahara"?
That is nice if people want to compare me to Hendrix. He was probably the best ever. But I play my style and he played his.
What would you like to do next?
I would like to go cook a steak!... No, but seriously, I am working on the new idea for my next album, but I should keep it a secret for now.
You recently went to the Festival au Desert. How was that?
It was very fun. So many great musicians, everyone happy... Also every year the organisers do a better job. Soon it will be one of the biggest festivals in the world.
Finally, will you be following the African Nations Cup? Do you think Mali have a good chance?
No no, I do not follow sports really.
Vieux Farka Touré is on tour in France on February 2, 3, 17 and 18, and in the UK from February 5 to 16. Later in the year, from April 3 to May 4, he will be touring the US. For more details visit www.vieuxfarkatoure.com.