The DNA of Blues

Martin Scorsese once said that the Malian guitarist Ali Farka Touré’s music constituted “the DNA of blues.” That puts Vieux Farka Touré next in line, not only as Ali’s son, but as the heir to a musical tradition that reintroduced the American blues to its West African origins. 

Vieux Farka Touré’s latest album,
The Secret, features the songwriter’s
final collaboration with his father,
the Malian blues god Ali Farka Touré.
Photo by Zeb Goodell.

The elder Touré was legendary for merging the melody of Malian folk with the rambling guitar phrasing of blues greats like John Lee Hooker and Lightnin’ Hopkins. When Vieux began experimenting with this sound—after secretly taking up the guitar when his father discouraged him from it—it gained an urgent, harder edge, and truly crystalized into what is now called “Desert Blues.” 

Since his debut release in 2007, Touré’s albums have risen to the top of the World Music charts, and his growing recognition earned him a spot at the Opening Celebration of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. With The Secret, released in May, Vieux digs deeper into his own roots while moving forward. Perhaps it is fitting that the album contains Vieux’s final collaboration with his late father, on which the younger man’s expanded, self-consciously electric playing riffs poignantly with the elder’s. (The record also includes Derek Trucks, John Scofield, and a vocal duet with Dave Matthews.) 

We caught up with Vieux Farka Touré via e-mail before his Wednesday, August 31, gig at the Jefferson. Catch him there with Corey Harris—the local bluesman whose 2003 album Mississippi to Mali included collaborations with Ali—before the next wave in blues innovation passes you by.

Your father, guitar legend Ali Farka Touré, was reluctant to have you fol-lowing in his footsteps. Why do you think he encouraged you to join the mil-itary rather than become a musician?

My father did not like the music business and the immoral, dishonest things that happen in it. He wanted to protect me from certain types of people, and I think he also wanted me to have a more stable life and income. It is true that dishonest people exist in the music industry, and it is a very difficult life. But I surround myself with people that I trust and I am always involved in all the aspects of my career. I am careful.

In 2005, Eric Herman got permission from your teachers and other community elders to get your first album produced in Brooklyn, but you still continued to do most of your recording in Mali. Is recording music a different experience there?

Yes, there is a difference between recording in Mali and in the U.S. I prefer to record in Mali, where my soul feels at peace and where we have more time to take everything in. They are both great, but very different experiences. For The Secret, the majority of the recording needed to be done in Mali.

Some would say that your innovation comes from your fresh perspective on blues and rock. In your mind, are the genres very different?

No. To me, rock music is just a little more upbeat, but in terms of the construction of the music I see them as basically the same thing.

Ever since your debut album was remixed for the album UFOs Over Bamako, you’ve been a big supporter of remixes of your work. Do you have a favorite remixed version of one of your songs?

I really love the Yossi Fine “Ma Hine Cocore” remix and the Nickodemus “Sangaré” remix. I think those must be my favorites.

You were initially trained as a percussionist. Does that come out in your guitar playing?

Yes, definitely. My style of playing guitar is very percussive. It is a direct evolution of my drumming.

If you could collaborate with anyone you haven’t worked with yet, who would it be?

That is a tough question. There are so many! I love Phil Collins. I love Jay-Z. One of those two, I guess.

Do you like being on the road?

I would not say that I enjoy always being on the road, but I am quite comfortable with it. It is now very routine for me, and normal to always be waking up in a new place. I do love to meet people from everywhere. It is this cultural learning that keeps me sane and happy on the road.

Have you felt inspired by any recent records?

I love Watch the Throne, the new collaboration between Kanye West and Jay-Z. Jay-Z is the master of rap. I would like to invite him to play in Bamako. I’ll arrange everything —he just needs to say, “O.K., I’ll do it,” and I’ll take care of the rest. Tell him that.

Vieux Farka Touré
with Corey Harris and the
Rasta Blues Experience
Wednesday, August 31
The Jefferson Theater
(800) 594-TIXX

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