Saturday, January 23, 2010

Vieux Farka Toure

I confess that I came to Ali Farka Toure's work from that gorgeous scene in The Spanish Apartment when Romain Duris and his cute flatmate sat on her bed, smoking a joint, exchanging tips on how to woo a woman, and playing air guitar to Ai Du. I also confess that I went to see Vieux Farka Toure on the basis that it would be closest I'd get to experiencing his father.

But Vieux was a force in his own right. His music was mesmerising and evocative. And he was an upstart in the best sense of the word. One moment we were transported to the heart of Africa, then next we were being teased for our ineptitude on the sing-along front. In shy English, he asked the audience if they were doing OK then teased: "If you're not happy, it's not good for me. It took me three days to get here from Mali!" I'm pretty sure his suit was made from snakeskin.

His homage to Ai Du was sublime, though I wondered of he played it with a greater sense of force than his father might have. Ali Farka Toure generously shared his gifts with the world, but remained firmly rooted in his home village in Mali. His voice was somehow more measured, centred, like he knew his words would travel but he was happy for them to go on without him. Vieux emanated a greater sense of ownership, of pride, of purpose (though I acknowledge it's somewhat unfair to compare a recorded voice to a live performance).

It was my first night out alone for a long time and it was a rich place to be, on the periphery of a heaving mass of colour and rhythm. People of all ages, shapes and sizes were grinning widely, stamping their feet and beating fists in the air in time to the music. True to form, I left the party while it was in full swing. I did feel a little guilty for not saying goodbye to the young musician sitting at my table, with whom I had exchanged a few words. He'd shared that he was able to make a living playing guitar for local bands, but that he came to see shows like this to remind him of his passions.

And that really summed the whole evening up. Like Anne Morrow Lindenbergh's walk along the local beach, where residents would exchange smiles and words generously, with no need or expectation of anything more. The music, the dancing, the conversation, the love in that strange kitsch ballroom were gifts freely given and freely received, held in mutual trust.

Farka means donkey. Toure senior was the only child in his family to survive infancy, so he was nicknamed for his stubbornness and tenacity. It would seem his son inherited this trait, as well as the nickname. I can't help but think that the world will be a richer place for his sharing of these gifts.


  1. i think i will have to find some of this music to listen to...your description of it makes me want to hear it =-)

    i do love music!

  2. Yay! I'd recommend Ali Farka Toure's "Talking Timbuktu" collaboration with Ry Cooder to start with. You'll be transported to Mali... and instantly hooked! :-)