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Published: 2011/11/21
by Glenn H Roth

Vieux Farka Toure Shares The Secret

The track that you did with your father, what exactly is the “Secret?”

If I told you it would not be a secret, would it? (laughs) It is more of homage to the deep buried treasures of our culture.

What are the buried treasures of your culture?

These are the inborn secrets of our music that are revealed through our traditions. It is the raw blues form and the emotions that it produces. It is the Malian melodies that can stab at your heart. It is the groove that can go on for eternity. But of course, how to make these things is a secret! (laughs)

Mali is one of the most politically and socially stable countries in Africa, however it is still considered one of the poorest countries in the world. Do you use your music or standing to help your native country?

Yes. I try to use both my music and my standing as much as possible. Since my first album in 2007 I have had a “Fight Malaria” campaign through my music that gives mosquito nets to children and pregnant women in the Niafunke region of Mali, where I was raised. I also sit on the board of various foundations based in Mali. In Mali, those that can earn money have a deep sense of responsibility for the community. I feel this responsibility every day of my life.

What influence did your father have on your music career?

Of course, my father is the most important person in my life and in my career. He taught me a great many things about music, the guitar, and our traditions. Also, at the very end of his life he was very concerned about preparing me for a life in music, once he accepted that that was to be my path. He wanted me to avoid the problems that he had with people in the music business and to surround myself with people that I can trust and with whom I share a real mutual respect.

I get the sense that your dad was against you becoming a musician, why? What did he want you to become? And how long did it take for him to change his mind?

At first my father wanted me to be in the military rather than being a musician. It is strange, but I think he felt this way as a way of trying to protect me. He did not like the music business and the way that many people behave in it. He knew how hard it was to live as a musician and he wanted something simpler and more reliable for me. But it was my destiny to be a musician and once he saw that I was sincere about this he gave me his blessing. This took maybe about one to two years to convince him.

Besides your father, what other African musicians influenced your musical style?

Next important after Ali is definitely Toumani Diabate. He is a second father to me and he was my mentor as I was becoming a professional musician. I love a lot of the big Malian artists — Oumou (Sangare), Tinariwen, etc. I also like a lot of Sahara blues groups like Desert Rebel and Mamar Kassey. I also love the more pop music of Alpha Blondie and Tiken Jah (Fakoly).

I’ve seen postings where people call you “The Hendrix of the Sahara.” What do you think of that description of yourself?

Of course it is very flattering to be compared to Jimi Hendrix. He is the all-time master of the guitar, there is no question. Of course, I do not think that I am Jimi Hendrix. That is not my goal. I have my own style that comes out of me naturally and if people want to compare it to Hendrix, than I am happy to let them do that. But I am concerned with pushing Malian music forward, not with sounding like anyone else.

Getting back to your summer tour, you performed something like 16 shows in 17 days, how do you keep yourself energized and refreshed?

It is not easy. The road can be very exhausting. These days I try not to stay up late after the show. I do not drink or take drugs or anything like that. I am married and I have children so I do not chase women. Also I can sleep in the van. But still, even with all of this it is hard to keep your energy high on the road. Often I will be almost asleep when I am called to stage, then you summon all the energy in your body for the show, and then you crash.

You had two backing musicians with you, what did they add to your sound? And how did you select those guys?

Tim Keiper is my drummer. He has been with me since the beginning of my career. He is maybe one of the best drummers in the world, honestly. Once I saw what he could do I never wanted to let him go. He can play any style and he is always improving himself, working hard. Mamadou Sidibe is my bass player. He is a great player and a great friend – like a younger brother to me. It relaxes me to have him on the road with me, and in the music I can always trust him to play the right groove.

You have an upcoming European tour with stops in France, Netherlands, Denmark, Brussels, Austria, how well-known are you over there?

You know, it is a bit like in the US — people know me over there but not like I am Michael Jackson. Usually the crowds will be a little bigger in Europe. I think they are more used to having artists from Africa. But this is changing in the US. The crowds are growing and they are getting younger. Anyways, I am looking forward to playing again in Europe. I always have a great time.

You’re also headed to India for three shows. Do you know how to play the sitar? Are you fan of Ravi Shankar and that style of music?

I must admit that I do not know his music very well but everything I have heard from India I have liked a lot. I have not played a real sitar but on the song “All The Same,” with Dave Matthews I play a guitar that has the strings of a sitar. You can hear it easily on the track. I am very curious to learn more about Indian music. I can tell it is very, very deep, like the music of Mali.

What are your plans for 2012?

I will be touring the world with my band still, but also I will be releasing an acoustic album with my friend Idan Raichel from Israel and we will be doing tours together as a quartet with upright bass and calabash. This will present a totally different side of my music — calm, soothing, beautiful. We made the album in one night in Tel Aviv — it was magic. So now we are taking the project to the world. Aside from all of this, we will see. I can never predict too far into the future where I will be.

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