Vieux Farka Touré Finds Truth In His Roots In ‘Les Racines’
Vieux Farka Touré embraces his heritage on his new album Les Racines. Translated as ‘The Roots,’ the new album rings out with the traditional northern Mali sounds of Songhai Music made famous by his late father, Ali Farka Touré. As the son who has spent a lifetime establishing his own identity as a musician, it took the lockdowns of the Covid pandemic for Vieux Farka Touré to reconnect with the ‘desert blues’ and create a record that yearns for his people to come together in a country that is troubled with the ceaseless violence of tribal and ethnic tensions. Les Racines is a journey that has taken him home, bursting with love.
The 41-year-old singer and guitarist had to battle for his father’s acceptance to allow him to follow in his footsteps. The blessing, finally being given when Ali Farka Touré laid down tracks on his son’s eponymous debut album, Vieux Farka Touré, in 2007. His father’s initial reticence has had a long-lasting impression on the choices Vieux Farka Touré has made throughout his career. Pushing the boundaries of Western African music with collaborations with musicians such as Dave Matthews, jazz guitarist John Schofield and an album with American singer-songwriter Julia Easterlin, he has until now ploughed his own furrow.
On Les Racines, a host of world-class musicians from Mali, West and Central Africa and the U.S including Amadou & Miriam, Moussa Dembelé, Marshall Henry and Cheick Tidiane Seck help deliver the album’s message in a way that he explains is to “not abandon the past.”
The hypnotic opening track, “Gabou Ni Tie” gets straight to the point: A message to a young girl to stop her wandering and to return to the values of her community. It revels in the ancient circular riffs and imploring voices of an endless maternal connection. That freedom cannot help us escape pain is sung out by those pleading for return. The listener is enveloped by the deep soul of family and community at the core of all self-belief. Of love. It is a beautiful opening that draws you in for the rest of the record.
On “Ngala Kaourene” a heart opens. The need to find peace here carries us out across the Sahara on a wave of spiraling flute notes. In reference to the message running through the song, Vieux Farka Touré says: “All I ask of my brothers is to give each other their hand, whatever your ethnic group… let’s reconcile for a way out of the crisis. Only unity creates strength. Let’s make peace. It is in peace that we can flourish.” The call and response vocals build with this incessant demand for change.
“Adou” is named after one of his own sons and echoes out eternally with the affection and talents that his father, in turn, handed down to him. In reference to fatherhood, he explains: “Knowing that he is there gives me the courage and the will to carry out my work. And I take the opportunity to tell all fathers to love and to savour these magical moments with their children.”
Les Racines an album that reverberates with the constant sense of full circle and return. That all music and modernity find their truth in their roots. That it is his debut on World Circuit, the label Vieux Farka Touré has always dreamt of recording on, makes it the most purposeful of his work yet. It’s from this imprint that his father achieved global recognition, gaining five Grammy nominations and winning three. Almost lovingly, Jerry Boys, who worked on many of his father’s albums, returns to the mixing board to give these songs the timeless integrity they deserve.
Les Racines is the record in which Vieux Farka Touré gets to boldly step out from his father’s shadow but does so by channeling his essence through these songs of great pride and unity; buoyed by the endless mysteries of life.
There lies an ineffable truth in the rhythms and melodies that both have plucked out so significantly in their music and on album closer “Ndjehene Direne,” where Vieux Farka Touré demands his people to be the “force to overcome the misfortune that divides us,” the purpose becomes more insistent still. A weaving spell of hand claps and ululating tongues—the riff never dreaming to stop until it does.
Now, the aging son sees his father’s face in the mirror for the first time, but with his own purpose and his own dreams.