Traditions might be cultural, springing from the heart of a community. They might be familial, tied to parents and grandparents. They might be artistic, carrying the torch of inspiration from generation to generation. Or, in the case Boureima “Vieux” Farka Touré, a tradition might be born from all three.
“I play the music that’s in my blood,” Touré writes in an e-mail from Mali.
The son of famed West African guitarist Ali Ibrahim “Farka” Touré, it might be difficult for him to escape his father’s legacy. His father, who died in 2006, was known as the “Bluesman of Africa” and drew comparisons to John Lee Hooker. Self-titled Ali Farka Touré (1976) was one of the first commercially produced records in Mali. The elder Touré won three Grammys, the last of which was awarded this year, and appeared on Rolling Stone’s list of the “100 Best Guitarists of All Time.”
But Vieux Farka Touré is not bound by his father’s legacy and is neither trying to depart from nor replicate it. Instead, he’s forging his own musical path. “I am the next generation, and my music is the reflection of that,” he says.
The music of Vieux Farka Touré has an eclectic quality that’s difficult to pin down. He boasts a technical ability on the guitar that leaves many rock guitarists in the dust and features complex African techniques alongside familiar blues riffs. His new album, The Secret, features collaborators as diverse as rocker Dave Matthews and jazz giant John Scofield, as well as a final father-son collaboration.
Genealogists of the blues trace its roots to traditional African-American folk music, which is itself a mixture of African and Western styles brought together during centuries of the slave trade. In turn, the blues gave birth to a melange of musical genres, including the twin titans of jazz and rock & roll. In this sense, Touré’s music is itself an intergenerational blending of styles simultaneously diverse and kindred.
“The music that I play is the living evolution of traditional Malian music,” Vieux Farka Touré affirms.
“This is my most mature album,” Touré writes, saying that it is “grounded in Malian traditional music while, at the same time, the most progressive.” He counts among his influences fellow Malian musicians Toumani Diabaté, Oumou Sangaré and Afel Bocoum, but also Western favorites Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. But, he adds, “I’m very open to any music, and I’m influenced a little by all of it.”
Casey Jarman, festival director for Living Traditions, says he first inquired about booking Touré three or four years ago. Touré, Jarman says, brings a “quality of great artistry as well as that history of traditional African music that was started by his father and his father’s father.”
He notes that the music of Mali has a “slightly different feel than other African music.” Mali’s history of producing excellent musicians, combined with Touré’s family connection, “sits very well with Living Traditions.”
“Tradition is dynamic,” Touré writes. “I like to think that I am playing a role in moving the traditions of my country’s music forward into the future.”
Where this future lies, precisely, he can’t say until the next bout of inspiration strikes. Touré’s third studio album, The Secret, will be released May 24. His last album, Fondo, was called “one of the finest albums to come out of Africa this year ” by the BBC. Touré might be building on a tradition, but the result is distinctly his own.
Meanwhile, Toure is excited to be bringing his unique sound to Living Traditions and Salt Lake City. His last words sent from Mali are an invitation: “Come to my show with an open mind and open heart and I promise you we will have an unforgettable time together!”
VIEU FARKA TOURE
Living Traditions Festival
Salt Lake City & County Building
450 S. 200 East
Friday, May 20, 8:30 p.m.