Nearly 3 years ago Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Toure’s debut release appeared. It came out shortly after the death of his legendary guitar-playing father, Ali Farka Toure, known for his distinctive Malian Islamic roots in the desert meets John Lee Hooker style. His father, before passing away from cancer, recorded four tracks with his son. Vieux’s musical mentor, kora (21 string African harp) player and bandleader extraordinaire Toumani Diabete also appeared on four songs on that debut, so despite its merits, it was hard to hear that cd as that much more than the effort of a still learning musician who was not quite his Dad or his Dad’s pals. Now on Vieux’s recently released second album Fondo (it means “the road”) he is beginning to establish his own identity. He will also be back in town Monday night June 22, this time at the Rock and Roll Hotel.
While Toumani Diabete is on one track on Fondo, and veteran Malian vocalist Afel Bocoum is on three cuts, this is very much Vieux’s cd as he penned all but one song (a traditional) and his guitar playing, influenced by Dad but with some rock and Caribbean influences as well, dominates the sound. However, Vieux also adds some modern touches with the help of bassist/producer/remixer Yossi Fine (he and Vieux produced) from Israel and New York trap drummer Tim Keiper who has played with John Zorn and with the Dirty Projectors. Not afropop ala Amadou & Mariam, this is more Saharan bluesy drone, but with enough distinctive touches in each cut to keep it from being too repetitive.
On album opener “Fafa,” Vieux quickly establishes his turf with some raw, powerful chords, then the band joins in and his playing turns lyrical as the vocals and the rhythm section help turn the number into a melodic desert blues lullaby. Vieux has noted in interviews that in learning music from Toumani Diabete, he has tried to make his guitar conjure up a sound that resembles that of the harp-like kora, and he succeeds in parts of this song as well in the album closing reprise version of the tune. “Ai Haira,” “Sarama,” and “Cherie Le” on the other hand, strikingly meld uptempo and more abrasive Farke Toure guitarwork with polyrhythms courtesy of Malian percussionists and drummer Keiper. “Diaraby Magni” features dub reggae playing and production while “Paradise” spotlights Vieux and Diabete dueting acoustically with radiant strumming and demonstrates that he can play traditionally without just imitating the past.
Monday June 22 at 8:30 (doors at 8) –Vieux Farka Toure with local openers Elikeh and Farafina Kan at the Rock and Roll Hotel, 1353 H Street, NE, Washington, DC USA – (202) 388-ROCK, $15.