This collaboration between the son of Mali guitar legend Ali Farka Touré and the hypnotic Houston trio defies categorisation to float off in its own beatific and unhurried mood
Ali Farka Touré had a complex relationship with success outside Africa. It came to him relatively late in life – he was nearly 50 when the music he’d been recording for a small French label since the mid-70s started attracting attention in Europe and America – and he never seemed entirely comfortable with it. His guitar playing was compared with that of blues legends including Robert Johnson and John Lee Hooker, but he described the blues as “a type of soap powder”. He would occasionally collaborate with western musicians, but told one of them, Ry Cooder, that America was “a place of bad energy” and a “spiritual car park”. He sold hundreds of thousands of albums and won Grammy awards, but was always wont to simply vanish back to Mali. He followed his Cooder collaboration, 1994’s Talking Timbuktu, by disappearing for five years and threatening to give up music altogether: he seemed more interested in farming in the village of Niafunké, his home town, where he eventually became mayor.
Perhaps a desire to step out of his father’s considerable shadow has informed the approach of Vieux Farka Touré. Certainly, he’s attempted to court a mainstream audience more assiduously than his dad ever did. His eponymous 2007 debut album was swiftly followed by a remix collection, which streamlined his sound for dancefloors. He has toured the US and Europe relentlessly. And he teams up with the kind of collaborators who push his music further afield, among them Israeli composer and pianist Idan Raichel, jazz guitarist John Scofield and experimental US vocalist Julia Easterlin. His collaborative album with the latter, Touristes, featured covers of both Bob Dylan’s Masters of War and Fever Ray’s I’m Not Done. His latest collaboration might be his most impressive to date. Hard on the heels of June’s sparse, straightforward homage to his father’s sound, Les Racines, comes Ali, which reinterprets some of his father’s best-known songs with Houston trio Khruangbin, a musical union that was apparently sealed in a London pub over fish and chips.
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