Dizzy Spins: Vieux Farka Toure et Khraungbin - Ali
Ali, a new album by Vieux Farka Toure of Mali, and Khraungbin of Texas crosses cultural and international boundaries. It stands out as a great example of how, with art, those boundaries are much harder to define.
If you're a world groove fan, the collaboration between Texas based trio Khruangbin and Malian guitar all-star Vieux Farka Toure is a real treat. The album titled Ali -- a collection of eight covers, written by the late Ali Farka Toure who passed away in 2006 -- pays tribute to Toure's legendary Grammy nominated activist father. The outro lyrics of the lead off song read: “Un grand hommage à feu Ali Farka Touré, merci.” Toure’s signature guitar riffing pulls you into this album, quoting his father, the melodies and grooves innovatively reimagined. Vieux’s warm and inviting vocals keep you buckled up for the ride, while Khruangbin’s psych rock layers keep you dreamily floating along beginning to end. Ali brings us a fresh approach to an iconic style, with heartfelt intention.
Vieux Farka Toure followed his father’s example, despite Ali openly discouraging him from becoming a musician. Ali had also been encouraged by his father (Vieuex’s grandfather) to pursue a more traditional career path. Ali had hoped to convince his son Vieux to join the Malian army. Ultimately, Ali honored and accepted Vieux's commitment to music before he succumbed to his fight with cancer. The legendary father and son fortuitously had the chance to record music together before the end of Ali’s life. The Secret, produced by Eric Krasno (Guitarist of Soulive) featuring Dave Matthews, Derek Trucks, and John Scofield, was the last collaboration between Touré and his late father.
Vieux Farka Toure has worked on a number of fusion projects as well, including collaborations with Israeli pianist Aidan Rachel, American vocalist and baritone ukulele player Juila Easterlin, and now this 2022 release with Khruangbin.
From Houston, Texas, Khruangbin is becoming a heavy hitter in the current world-psych- rock music movement. The trio started with guitarist Mark Speer meeting and jamming with drummer Donald Johnson in the gospel choir at their Methodist church. Speer was backing the electronic rock band Yphha, and shortly after encouraged friend Laura Lee to learn bass and audition, and brought both she and Johnson to back the tour. The three bonded over their affinity for Afghan music and Middle Eastern Architecture.
Like Vieux who speaks eight languages, bassist and Khruangbin bandleader Laura Lee is a multi-linguist with a love for eastern cultures and global fusion soundscapes. Lee was studying Thai psychedelic rock, culture, and language when the band first formed. She chose her favorite Thai word, the word for airplane (literal translation: “air engine'') to be their name symbolizing the band's mission to transport audiences and connect to and incorporate various cultures and realities.
This album with Toure takes their dubbed out dessert-inspired sound to new depths. His trademark tone and style of guitar playing is evident as an early influence on Khruangbin’s signature sound. Vieux told OkayAfrica (a digital media platform dedicated to African culture) in an interview, “They have never been to Africa but it does not matter because music does not know any frontiers."
In 1994, Malian cultural treasure Ali Farke Toure released a record with Ry Cooder, an American multi-instrumentalist and songwriter best known for his slide guitar work and his interest in American traditional music. Talking Timbuktu won the Grammy for best international album that year. The guitar riff from the song "Diaraby '' garnered prominent placement on The World, a PRI-BBC radio program. It was Ry and Ali’s blending of their separate traditional sounds that stood out and made the collaboration so special. This fusion of worlds and backgrounds created a cross pollination of listeners like nothing before. Similarly, this tribute album Ali mixes Farke Toure’s Saharan and Khruangbins Texan desert horizons. These interpretations-- A beautiful tribute to Ali Farka Toure's legacy-- reinvent time-tested tunes, sonically blending worlds. Perhaps this music is intended for us to not only consider music, but culture without borders.