Artist Spotlight: Vieux Farka Touré

The Malian blues-rock giant Vieux Farka Touré will play for the first time in Bulgaria this Sunday at the invitation of the Alarma Punk Jazz Radio Festival and the AfroVision platform, a little more than half a century after his legendary father’s concert at the 1968 Sofia Youth Festival.

Often dubbed as “The Hendrix of the Sahara,” Vieux Farka Touré was born in Niafunké, Mali, in 1981, the son of the legendary Malian guitarist Ali Farka Touré, who passed away in 2006. Despite his father’s wish for him to pursue a military career, Vieux was determined to follow in his footsteps as a musician. With the support of family friend the kora maestro Toumani Diabaté, Vieux convinced his father to bless his musical journey shortly before Ali’s passing. In an interview with Songlines, Vieux said:

It’s difficult to be the child of someone who has gone to the top of the mountain. The name follows you around and it means you have twice as much work to do to establish yourself. Early in my career people asked why wasn’t I just following my father. That would have been an easy course to take, but if I had trod in his footsteps people would have criticised me for copying him. So I knew I had to establish my own identity. It was the only way people were going to listen and not just say ‘he’ll never be as good as his father’.

photo: Kiss Diouara

Initially trained as a drummer and calabash player at Mali’s Institut National des Arts, Vieux secretly picked up the guitar in 2001. He recorded his debut album with his father, capturing some of Ali’s final performances. Released in 2007, the album paid homage to Ali’s legacy and featured collaborations with Toumani Diabaté.

Vieux’s second album, “Fondo,” released in 2009, showcased his evolving style, blending rock, Latin, and African influences while staying rooted in his father’s musical tradition. The album received widespread acclaim, signaling Vieux’s emergence as a distinct musical force.

In 2010, Vieux performed at the FIFA World Cup opening concert in South Africa and released his first live album, showcasing his electrifying stage presence and guitar prowess. His third studio album, titled “The Secret,” revealed the hidden essence of the blues through a generational blend from father to son, with the title track marking the final collaboration between Vieux and his late father. The album was produced by Eric Krasno and featured collaborations with renowned artists like South African-born vocalist Dave Matthews, Derek Trucks on electric slide guitar, and jazz guitarist John Scofield, further solidifying Vieux’s status as a global musical talent.

photo: Kiss Diouara

Following the release of his next album “Mon Pays,” which celebrates his country’s culture and resilience, Vieux’s genre-defying spirit persisted with projects like “Touristes” and “Samba,” showcasing his versatility and creativity. During the Covid-19 pandemic, he recorded “Les Racines” (2022), a return to the Desert Blues roots, and collaborated with Khruangbin on “Ali,” honoring his father’s legacy.

Vieux began planning “Les Racines” in 2019 while touring globally. Then Covid-19 intervened. “As I was stuck at home, I turned lockdown to my advantage and used the time to finish the album,” he explains. Recorded in Bamako at Vieux’s home studio – named Studio Ali Farka Touré in his father’s honor—the album features contributions from Madou Sidiki Diabaté on kora, Toumani Diabaté’s younger brother, and guitarist Amadou Bagayoko from the Malian duo Amadou & Mariam.

We are nothing if we abandon respect for the past and what I do comes from there and how I grew up. But we can also marry modernity with the strength of our traditions. In Mali many people are illiterate and music is the main way of transmitting information and knowledge. My father fought for peace and as artists we have an obligation to educate about the problems facing our country and to rally people and shepherd them towards reason.

photo: Gem Hall

“Returning to the roots of this music is a new departure for me and I’ve never spent so long or worked so hard on an album,” he says. “I took a lot of time to reflect on how to do it and put it together. To do justice to my father’s memory I knew the music had to be deep and durable and powerful.”

Beyond music, Vieux is a committed humanitarian, founding the charity Amahrec Sahel in 2012 to support education and culture in Mali. He also directs The Ali Farka Touré Foundation, dedicated to preserving his father’s legacy and fostering Mali’s cultural growth. Through his music and philanthropy, Vieux Farka Touré continues to inspire and uplift communities, solidifying his place as a global ambassador for Malian culture and a beacon of artistic innovation.

For more info about Sofia’s concert: Event & Tickets (poster: Iglika Kojakova).


Text: Sofia Hussein for Dinya
Cover photo: Kiss Diouara
Quotes in this article were sourced from an interview with Vieux Farka Touré in Songlines magazine.

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