His self-titled 2006 debut collected together Vieux Farka Touré’s interpretations of traditional Malian songs, many of which were from his late father Ali Farka Touré’s extensive catalogue. The great man, together with countryman Toumani Diabaté, guested on it just before his death.
From father to son the torch has passed, as though from one griot to the next, though this succession has more to do with talent than traditional castes. Fast forward three years and Fondo is 27-year-old Vieux’s follow-up, and it makes a convincing case to be regarded as his debut proper. For a start, Vieux wrote all but one of the songs himself and, rather than continue to ply his father’s material, he strides out with his own take on the world that stretches across the Atlantic to reggae and dub. The packshot image says much: He’s still a desert bluesman, crossing the sands with his guitar, but he’s in the modern dress of any young man of his time, anywhere in the world.
In this respect Vieux juggles with the same conundrum that seems to be faced by all African artists as they make music within their own culture while looking out to an international audience. So on the one hand, Diaraby Magni brings together a lolloping reggae rhythm and reverb-laden dub production from producer Yossi Fine. On the other, Paradise brings Diabaté’s kora back for a duet between elder and younger that underlines Vieux’s traditional knowledge.
The one traditional number included on the album is Wale, which features his father’s contemporary Afel Bocoum‘s vocals, but it’s not at all out of place, sounding as at home in this collection as the bluesy opener Fafa. Elsewhere Sarama raises the tempo considerably, pairing call-and-response vocals with drumming that starts acoustic and ratchets up to something near drum’n’bass, while Slow Jam, one of two instrumentals, takes the tempo in the opposite direction. On Mali he heads into Amadou & Mariam territory with easy chorus lines underpinned by intricate guitar playing.
As the psychedelic tinges of chilled-to-a-fridge Fafa (Reprise) play out, it’s impossible not to conclude that Vieux Farka Touré has pulled off quite a feat with Fondo. Remaining true to his personal and national heritage while staking out new ground, he manages to appeal to traditionalists and fusion fans alike with an opus that helps him step out of his father’s shadow. We’re going to hear a lot more from him.