Vieux Farka Touré and Khruangbin Confront Musical Legacy in Ali — Album Review

Vieux Farka Touré’s father never wanted him to be a musician. This was not surprising given that his father was a middle-class West African farmer and local politician, but more surprising given that he was also Ali Farka Touré, the pioneering desert blues guitarist who is become one of Mali’s main musical exports. His son spent years playing something other than his father’s music; now, in 2022, nearly two decades after Ali’s death, Vieux has released two albums that confront his legacy head-on.

The first one, The Roots, was a musically conservative dive into the world of Ali Farka Touré and his lyrical preoccupations, made with other West Africans. This second, simply titled Aliis a set of songs by the former Touré, recorded in collaboration with the Texas rock band Khruangbin.

During his lifetime, Ali Farka Touré worked on his own terms: ornamentation was at the service of his songs, and not the other way around. Here, Khruangbin has a bit more wiggle room, but the heart of the songs, from their lyrics in French, Fulani, Bambara and, primarily, Songhai to their slow Saharan tempos, remains the same.

The album travels back in time, opening with “Savane” (referred to here as “Savanne”), the title track from Ali’s last solo album, recorded at Bamako’s Hotel Mandé in 2004 as his health began to fail. decline. Vieux begins with a fanfare-like guitar vamp over a mournful Mark Speer synthesizer haze – then the song’s reflections on exile and the diaspora unfold over Laura Lee Ochoa’s bass and Donald Johnson’s drums, the all drenched in a deep dub echo. Taken from the 1990s River“Lobo” (here “Lobbo”) has a lazy back and forth, with bird calls and soft organ thumps.

The austere riff of “Diarabi” – a West African classic about an arranged marriage also famous in versions by Toumani Diabaté and Orchestra Baobab – is interrupted here by broken arpeggios by Speer. The doubling effects are intrusive rather than moody aside from the odd melodica pattern. “Tamalla” is a slightly strangled song of praise, the guitars of Touré and Speer clashing across the entire sonic spectrum.

Its accelerated ending has a similar energy to the ending of 1992’s “Mahine Me”. Source, whose bluesy rattle is amplified by Johnson’s vigorous drums and washboard and a bubbly Zydeco accordion by Ruben Moreno. The brief closing instrument, “Alakarra,” is a guitar duet over quivering drums, Lee Ochoa whispering “Ali” just on the threshold of audibility.


Ali‘ is published by Dead Oceans