Imagine being Jimi Hendrix’s son, and forging your own path as a musician. Vieux Farka Touré has carried that weight, wrestling with the legacy of his father Ali Farka Touré, the Malian guitarist whose ’90s albums with Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder introduced western audiences to the blues’ diasporic loop, from the slave ships to the USA and back to Africa, where young Ali heard John Lee Hooker and shivered with recognition. Touré Senior closed that circuit of influence, defining what came to be termed desert blues.
Vieux Farka Touré, meanwhile, went his own way. Blessed with similarly virtuosic guitar talent, he defied Ali’s initial disapproval to become a musician. Starting his professional career in 2006, the year his father died, he explored different collaborative byways as he established himself, working with jazz great John Scofield and Allman Brothers alumnus Derek Trucks on The Secret (2011), and two improvised albums with Israeli musicians as The Touré-Rachael Collective. In truth, he’s never wandered far from Malian music. But, 16 years after his father’s death, this sixth solo album finally immerses him in Ali’s sound. It’s as if, having made his own name, he’s now able to let go, allowing Ali’s influence to flood through. “This album had to be very natural, with the same mood and feeling my father had,” he tells Uncut. “I have this music in my blood and my heart anyway. What I’m doing is still myself. It’s not the same as previous Vieux Farka Touré albums, but it’s the same as I am in the street, in the school – it’s what I’m doing all the time. This is the tradition. It’s like the songs from my house.”
Les Racines means “the roots” and, as he crafted its music with maximum care at his Bamako home studio – named Studio Ali Farka Touré in unapologetic homage – Touré dug as deep as he could. Amadou & Mariam’s Amadou Bagayoko, who interweaves guitars on high-velocity opener “Gabou Ni Tie”, was among the elite Malian musicians who stopped by. But Les Racines is ultimately a full and fierce showcase for Vieux’s own prowess, and his restatement of desert blues.
The instrumental “L’Âme”, meaning “the soul”, sinks most deliberately and deeply into Ali’s spirit, rising and sinking like breath, with a loping, rolling gait, ’til it quickens in climactic tribute. It has the warmth of an abiding memory. “Flany Konare” is a contrasting statement of living, sensual love, Touré singing “Cherie, Cherie, Cherie, Cherie!” with unabashed, mantric directness, his voice conversationally low as a tight, tough arrangement pops and ripples, and his guitar dances over his own, deep-set jabs. “Adou” is similarly fervent, and exultantly proud of the son it’s named after. “Les Racines” sounds Spanish at first, with its castanet-style percussive clicks and Touré’s florid, brooding riffs, but his playing’s introspective intensity and lyricism, shadowed by Toumani Diabaté’s brother, Madou Sidiki Diabaté, on kora, is a very individual communing with roots.
Tradition is always double-edged, both a rooted strength and restriction, and “Gabou Ni Tie”’s chiding of a girl who rejects ancestral education and, as Touré explains, “the advice of her parents and only keeps bad company”, promotes communal responsibilities.
Elsewhere, though, Les Racines’ many instructional songs can’t be denied. Touré intends these lyrics for both Mali’s elites – with more expectation of being heard than most rock protest songs – and the toiling farmers in its rural expanse, where music remains the prime information source. He’s addressing a nation groaning with musical wealth but riven with ethnic conflict, alongside IS slaughter, government corruption and insidious foreign influence. No wonder “Ngala Kaourene”, which pleads for ethnic reconciliation, starts with the album’s starkest blues guitar notes, Madou Traore’s flute sweeping Touré’s guitar in its slipstream as he desperately implores. “Ndjehene Direne” closes Les Racines with staccato guitar stabs so liltingly light-toned yet relentless that they have a cumulative effect.
This delayed return to his father’s musical house finds Vieux Farka Touré commandingly authoritative and viscerally present. For all its vivid tumult and protest, his musical lines always loop back, like John Coltrane or John Lee Hooker, but further still, carrying him home.