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Published: 2011/11/21
by Glenn H Roth

Vieux Farka Toure Shares The Secret

The landlocked Sub Saharan country of Mali produces some of the sweetest sounding music in Africa.

And if you want to know the secret behind Mali’s success, you need to listen to Vieux Farka Toure’s new album.

In support of his new album, Farka Toure recently wrapped up a US summer tour including two appearances at the Dave Mathews Band Caravan. Beginning Oct. 31, Farka Toure embarks on a 14-city European tour.

His third studio album – The Secret – produced by Eric Krasno of Soulive, features collaborations with Matthews, guitarists John Scofield and Derek Trucks; and keyboardist Ivan Neville. The album also contains the last piece of music he performed with his late father Ali Farka Toure, who was known as a guitar virtuoso.

Jamband fans are very familiar with Eric Krasno’s funky guitar playing, but how would you describe him as a producer and what was it like working with him?

It was a great experience working with Kraz. We had a great rapport from the first moment. He has a great ear and is very relaxed in the studio environment, so we were just able to have fun and experiment with different things in a cool environment. I was impressed that he completely understood the Malian sound and was able to blend it so well with the American styles that we mixed in.

When I listen to your music and close my eyes, I am transported to a magical place. For those who have never heard Malian music, can you describe in words, what exactly is the Malian sound?

The Malian sound is the sound of the earth – it is the vibration of the ground beneath us. To be more technical, Malian music is generally very smooth, fluid and looping. American songs tend to go from one place to another place, back to the first place and so on; verse, chorus, verse, chorus. Malian music is not structured in this linear way. It is more like a landscape that the listener can wander through.

How did the collaboration come about with Dave Matthews?

We knew that Dave Matthews is a big fan of African music, and he and Kraz are friends. So Kraz sent him the rough track of “All the Same” and Dave was into it immediately. I feel really blessed to have worked with such a huge talent.

Dave must be a fan of your music because he invited you to play at the NYC Caravan festival. What’s your reaction when you receive such an invitation and what was it like playing at the opening night of the festival?

Well, we were lucky to play at all at the festival in NYC because the other two shows were postponed because of the hurricane. It was very exciting and a huge honor to be invited to play at the Caravan. We also played the Caravan in Chicago right before Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds. That was unforgettable. I have a lot of fun playing in front of audiences that do not already know me and Malian music – it’s a challenge and it pushes me to bring my best stuff.

At the Caravan in Chicago, how were you received by the fans?

The public at the Caravan was on fire! It was a great show and an unforgettable experience. There were many young people there and it always feels good to see young people enjoying my music. The same people I am playing for at a jam festival, I will be playing for in a fancy concert hall 30 years from now (laughs). Seriously though, I know that many of those people were at my stage waiting to see Dave Matthews after me, so it was great that by the end of my show, the energy of the crowd was so electric.

Getting back to the song, you did with Dave, I watched the video and there’s definitely a powerful message, in your words can you explain, the meaning behind “All The Same.”

“All The Same,” is really about the corruption of people’s spirits that can happen when you have something that they want. When you hold something precious, people will pretend to love you while secretly they wish you harm. It is about seeking real love in people and avoiding lies and deception.
What did you learn from the likes of Derek Trucks and John Scofield?

Wow, it’s hard to put into words. Those two are real masters of the guitar. I learned from them the value of having an open ear and heart when it comes to music. And that a truly great player can be thrown in the pool with anyone and come out swimming. They were so natural playing music that is a bit different. It was inspiring to me.
I love the song “Lakkal,” it’s full of life and funk. What was that a totally new sound for you? And how much of a role did Krasno and Neville play in getting the “funk” out of you?

Those guys cannot do anything that is not funky! That was the only song on the album that was recorded entirely in Brooklyn — the rest were done mostly in Mali. But for that one, we were just experimenting with different song ideas I’ve had — playing with Kraz on guitar, Tim (Keiper) on drums and Eric (Herman – my manager) on bass. When we started playing Lakkal everything clicked and we recorded it very quickly. Then we just added some dueling guitar solos with me and Kraz and then Ivan put on the finishing touches. It’s great when recordings can just flow so easily.

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