Honesty is important, so let me be honest. First, this interview was done by email. Second, when I was invited out to Tulsa, OK to cover Vieux Farka Touré I had to look him up as I had never heard of him. The breadth and depth of the music world is vast and I will never know all the important musicians, let alone all the amazing ones. That said, I am glad when they do cross my ears and Vieux Farka Touré is on that list. During my research I learned that Vieux’s father Ali Farka Touré was often referred to as a virtuoso on the guitar. I also learned that the path Vieux took to become a guitarist is well documented in other interviews. I had a few questions for him about those early years though before I asked about where he is now.
Music is often something that sticks in my memories, even as names and faces fade the emotional responses to songs remain. I asked Vieux what his first musical memory was. Vieux replied “My first memory of music is driving in the desert near Niafunke with my father, Ali, as he was blasting BB King. I know that I had heard a lot of music already by this time. I was probably five or six years old. But still, this remains my first real memory of music.”
“My first memory of music is driving in the desert near Niafunke with my father, Ali, as he was blasting BB King.” — Vieux Farka Touré
One little fact that I read about Vieux that really intrigued me is that he studied drums first before picking up the guitar. Vieux explained “I have always loved drums and percussion. I think that my style on the guitar would not be possible to play if I did not have years of training as a percussionist. My style of guitar is very rhythmic and polyrhythmic. I think I was shy to learn the guitar because I did not want people in Mali whispering about me following my father and comparing us. But, when I was twenty years old I was at the Arts Institute in Bamako studying music and I decided to start trying the guitar in secret. I fell in love with the guitar very quickly, quite simply. So I kept playing and playing.”
In many cultures there is a big push from parents on their kids to follow a certain path. Some parents want their kids to follow the same profession while others want a different path. This is a prime example of the latter so I asked “Was there apprehension to follow your fathers footsteps or was it destiny?” Vieux replied “I think it is both. I was nervous to reveal to Ali and my other elders that I had learned to play the guitar in secret. I did not want pressure on me about this. But I am glad that I did this before my father passed away, because he got to participate in launching my career by performing on my first album with me. He was proud of me in the end, even though at first he did not want me to pursue music. He realized that I was dedicated to this passion and that, yes, it was my destiny to be a musician.”
That answered the questions I had about his past. Now I wanted to talk about where was he at now. “Can you tell me about your new project TOURISTES?” He answered “This is a very special project with a very special singer, Julia Easterlin. I wanted to do an album with a female singer and my manager suggested that I meet Julia and see if we had a good chemistry in the studio. We met in New York and a couple hours later we had already recorded four songs! Imagine that! It was magic. So we decided quickly that we would do a whole album together. We call it Touristes because it mixes Toure and Easterlin and because we are each like tourists exploring new musical places.”
“We call it Touristes because it mixes Toure and Easterlin and because we are each like tourists exploring new musical places.” — Vieux Farka Touré
Vieux has collaborated before (The Touré-Raichel Collective) so I asked him “Can you elaborate on what it is about collaborating that you like?” He replied “I think collaborating is very important for all musicians. If you are only doing your music all the time you will lose a certain spontaneity in your music, you will become robotic, doing the same thing over and over. For me it is exciting to try things that are completely outside my experience. For me it keeps the music exciting and it is like the best exercise for your mind as a musician.” I then asked a question I am sure he saw coming “Is there any musician that you currently listen to that you would like to collaborate with in the future?” He said “There are many many artists with whom I would love to collaborate. I love reggae music so someone like Damian Marley or Alpha Blondy would be great to work with. I like hiphop music and even pop music so some big star like Jay-Z or Rihanna… why not?”
Why not indeed. His talent alone should be enough to open any door. But with his fun and kind personality on top of that?!