With a fresh take on his father’s trademark sound, Vieux is almost guaranteed to attract international audiences — even if only a handful of his compatriots have heard him play. We went to the Sahara to talk to him
In the chaos backstage before a soundcheck, out here in the Sahara, Touareg’s swoosh past in their magnificent robes, koras and ngonis are tuned, cigarettes and ‘cigarettes’ are smoked but mostly people wander around confused if they are there to organise and chat away happily if they are there to be organised.
“Mainly, I learned music not directly from my father but by playing his songs off the radio.”
Vieux is a relaxed and self-assured young man. It would be easy to mistake his coolness for coldness but later on that night he steps out of the darkness to offer a hand as I wander around temporarily lost in the sea of tents. There is no such thing as an inhospitable Malian.
Vieux’s much-missed father Ali Farka Touré had three wives and his offspring ran well into double figures. Ali was a man in demand everywhere he went, a man noted for his strong views but also a man mostly absent in the life of Vieux, “I didn’t grow up with my father as a child. I was in another village in my uncle’s house.”
At the age of five, Vieux moved with his mother and uncle to a town near Mopti, on the other side of the river Niger about a day or two’s travel from Niafonké. He stayed there until he was around 15 and returned to Niafonké for a few years but he stayed not with his father but in the house of his uncle.
“I know the music of my father note for note but I had to follow my father’s advice to be myself.”
Although not under the same roof, Vieux did spend time with Ali, developing over time an appreciation for this sometimes stern parent. “He was quite a hard father because it was very important to him that his children got a good education, didn’t go out too much, had enough to eat and did not waste money. For my father it was very important that my life would be without major problems. As a young man it was hard but I understand now why he was like that.”
Ali famously broke with tradition himself to become a musician and it is perhaps ironic that his son would go through a similar rite of passage. Having been named after a grandfather who was a soldier, it was generally assumed by all including his father that Vieux would march into the army. Vieux dutifully tried but when he turned to his father and admitted defeat, Ali was gracious enough to decide to help him in his chosen career as a musician.
As I travelled around Mali, I met few who had heard Vieux’s music themselves (not something that stopped people from having strong opinions on whether it would be any good).
Having said that, the support was more moral than practical, “Mainly, I learned music not directly from my father but by playing his songs off the radio. And when it was really difficult for me to get something I would go and ask my father for an explanation — which he was happy to give.”
Of course it wasn’t just his father’s music on the radio and Vieux was exposed to all kinds of music. “I know the music of my father note for note but I had to follow my father’s advice to be myself. The music I listen to includes reggae and rap as well as other Malian music and it is important to me that my music reflects my reality.”
As I travelled around Mali, I met few who had heard Vieux’s music themselves (not something that stopped people from having strong opinions on whether it would be any good). His performance at the Festival in the Desert was limited to just a song on the night of the tribute and a promised set at the Festival sur le Niger never happened. His CD has not yet come out in Mali either.
It will be interesting to see whether he can bring round local audiences to his mix of music plundered from his father and artfully mixed with newer sounds. With that surname and a slick album under his belt, he may be the first Malian musician to find it easier to conquer international audiences before making a name for himself locally.
–Photo of Vieux Farka Toure by Damian Rafferty–