Q & A with Vieux Farka Toure

Boureima "Vieux" Farka Touré is a Malian singer and guitarist, (and the son of Grammy-winning Malian musician Ali Farka Touré).  We're very lucky as Vieux will be in the country shortly, and will be stopping by to play Solbar on January 4th.

We gathered a little more insight into this fantastic musician... have a read, and definitely go check out Vieux Farka Toure when he comes through (particularly if you'll be suffering from Woodford Folk Festival withdrawals).

Your father was initially against you taking up music. Why was that do you think and what changed his mind about you entering the music industry?

My father had many bad experiences in the music industry.  There were several instances when people from France or elsewhere in Europe took advantage of him because he could not read or write and exploited him and stole from him.  So he really hated the business of music and he did not want to see me in the same situations that he was in.  However, I am not the same man as he was.  I have been to school, even to college and to a masters program.  I can read my own contracts and I am not vulnerable in that same way.  In the end he was ok with me pursuing my career in music because he saw that I was determined to succeed and that I had a true love for music in my heart.

Was it difficult for you facing that initial opposition?

Yes, of course, it is hard to resist the will of your father, especially a man with the respect of the entire country and even the world like Ali had.  But in the end he gave me the name 'Farka' to add to my professional name just like he had.  'Farka' means donkey in our language.  Ali was given this name because he was stubborn and so am I.

Did you ever doubt that music was your calling? Could you see yourself as a soldier instead?

No no no.  I would never be a soldier. I do love to fish and hunt and farm, though, so I could see myself doing other things besides music.  However, I am happy that these are just hobbies for me and not my real vocations.

Did you feel pressure picking up the guitar given your father’s fame with that instrument?

Yes of course.  You know, for the first two years of playing the guitar I did so in secret because I did not want people talking about the son of Ali picking up the guitar.  I did not want this attention.  It was only when I graduated from music school and met my manager who convinced me to record my first album that I found the courage to reveal to my father and my other elders that I had been training on the guitar in secret.  I did not start playing the guitar until I was 20 years old.

When it came to making your debut album, what was it like having your father contribute to the record?

That was a very important and emotional moment for me in my life.  It was as if he was giving me a piece of his soul on that day to take with me for the rest of my life.  I still get emotional when I think about that day in the studio.

Do you see yourself as continuing his legacy, taking your own musical path, or a bit of both? Has that changed as your career has developed?

I suppose it is a bit of both, but mostly I see myself on my own path in music.  There is only one Ali Farka Toure. My music has the same foundation, but it is a very different style.  Ali blazed a trail by taking traditional music from Mali and pushing it forward, and I think I am also doing that for my generation, so my path is new for me just as his was new to him.  Over the years I have done many interesting projects that have challenged me to push the music further into unknown territory.  This is at once exciting but it also reminds me every time to stay true to my roots and to keep the strong identity of Mali at the forefront of the music.

Music has long played an integral role in Malian society. Is that still the case today? Was this affected by the conflict in the north and its aftermath?

Of course music is still as important in Mali as it has always been.  Because of the conflicts there were artists in the North who were persecuted or who fled to the south, but things very quickly went back to normal as far as us musicians are concerned once the Islamists were driven out of the cities of the North.

You released Mon Pays in 2013. It could have been easy to release a somber or angry record at that time given what was taking place in Mali; was it a challenge to put out an album that instead was hopeful and positive in its messages?

No, not at all.  Giving people hope and inspiration is a principle role of a musician.  Not just in Mali but anywhere across the world, I think.  What can I do as a musician?  I cannot fight the Islamists with my fists or with guns.  What I can do is to inspire the hearts of my brothers and sisters in Mali to resist oppression.  This was the idea behind Mon Pays and I hope that it helped to heal our nation in its small way.

As one of the country’s most prominent musicians, did you feel a certain amount of responsibility for getting that message across?

Yes.  The musicians of Mali, especially those that tour internationally, are like ambassadors for the nation but we must also be like journalists to explain to the people what's going on, as well as entertainers for them.  I feel this responsibility every day and Im sure it's the same thing for the other well-known artists of Mali. 

Your most recent record was with Julia Easterlin, the latest in a series of collaborations for you. What attracts you to working with other artists in this way?

I like to be challenged to do new things in music that are very foreign to me.  Working with Idan Raichel was like this, doing a project that is basically jazz.  With Julia it was more like a modern American thing.  It's why we called it Touristes, because we were each like tourists in eachother's music.  I find those kinds of situation very exciting, where you do not know what will happen and something brand new comes out. 

How do you feel when people give you labels such as ‘the Hendrix of the Sahara’?

Just as there is only one Ali Farka Toure, there is only one Jimi Hendrix.  He was the king of kings on the guitar.  So to me it does not mean very much.  Of course it feels very good when someone compares you to the greatest guitarist in history, but I do not compare myself to him and I would not encourage others to.  Our music is very different.  I think people like to say this because for someone who has no idea who I am, this can be helpful to understand that I play the guitar and like to rock as music as I can.

Can you talk a little about your humanitarian work and the projects that the AMAHREC SAHEL is involved in?

AMAHREC SAHEL is an organization that I help to run that help orphans and others that are the most vulnerable in Malian society.  So we run an orphanage and we run programs delivering mosquito nets in the North of Mali and other projects like that.  For me I can have all the succcess in the world as an artist but if I am not giving back to my people then there is no point.  I am also becoming the ambassador for an organization called Mali Muso that is doing amazing work to provide healthcare to 300,000 people in Mali and to fight to end the child mortality crisis in Mali where many many children still die under the age of five from preventable illness.  You will hear more about this organization soon, I hope.

ieux Farka Toure will be playing Solbar on Wednesday, January 4th.