Vieux Farka Toure In Phoenix

by Kevin Wierzbicki

Vieux Farka Touré - May 17, 2022 - Musical Instrument Museum, Phoenix AZ

Fans of African music had a rare chance to see a performance by one of the continent's most-revered and beloved players as Malian singer and guitarist Vieux Farka Touré came to the music theater at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix on May 17. Sometimes referred to as the "Jimi Hendrix of the Sahara," Touré's show was filled with fluid leads, amazingly fast and precise riffing and expressive notes played on both acoustic and electric guitar on which he demonstrated his impressive fingerpicking technique. For this show he was backed up by bassist Marshall Henry and percussionist/drummer Adama Kone, a member of a West African griot family. Kone began the evening standing up and playing calabash before moving to a small drum kit.

Touré sings primarily in the Malian dialects of Bambara and Songhai and did not sing any songs in English. He does speak English though (along with numerous other languages) and he explained before "Ali" that the song was about his late father, the great player Ali Farka Touré. A long cut with a hypnotic groove, it was easy to sense the reverence in the song. Similarly Touré said that "Yer Gando," which included bass and drum solos, was about a hope for peace and unity in Mali where various ethnic groups are often violently opposed. Many songs in Touré's set were mellow and psychedelic but "Ni Negaba" moved to a more forceful sound where the drums got louder and Henry joined in on background vocals.

About four or five songs into his set Touré advised the crowd they could dance if they wanted to, saying "move like this" as he gave a little shimmy. While greatly responsive otherwise, the audience didn't get on their feet at that point. While Touré plays the desert blues as known in North Africa, he tuned into an American blues groove for "Walaidu," one of his father's songs. The cut oozed Delta blues (Ali was influenced by Robert Johnson) and Touré's guitar playing was reminiscent at points of British rocker Robin Trower. As the show neared its end Touré once again urged the crowd to dance and this time everyone got up and shimmied along with Vieux who also let out a few joyous whoops during the last songs.

Before a one song encore, Henry came back on stage alone to tell the crowd a bit about Touré's philanthropic work in Mali and also noted that his new album Les Racines, not officially released until next month, was for sale at the merch table.

Touré remains on tour through mid-June and will play several festivals in late summer. Find a list of his tour dates here.

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