September 2008

Vieux Farka Touré
at the 7th annual Small World Music Festival
September 30, 2008 The Mod Club Toronto
A Vieux to Fight Malaria
by Laila Boulos with photos by Roger Humbert

This year's Small World Music Festival opened and closed with African artists. Chiwoniso Maraire heralded the beginning of the Festival on September 18th. From Zimbabwe, Chiwoniso sings and plays mbira. (Please do not refer to this instrument as the Shona thumb piano, she pleads). And although she has recently moved to New York, her performance had a very organic goddess feel.

Combining tradition with innovation in her music, Chiwoniso has dedicated her latest album, Rebel Woman (on the U.S. Cumbancha label) to the strong women of Africa who fought for Zimbabwe's independence in the 1970s.

Vieux Farka Touré hosted the Festival's final concert. Vieux first appeared in Toronto on February 10, 2007 at Harbourfront Centre's Brigantine Room as part of the Kuumba Festival. At that time, the event was a CD release party for his debut album, entitled Vieux Farka Touré. On that evening the spirit of his father, Ali Farka Touré, the internationally admired guitarist, singer and two-time Grammy Award winner permeated the music.

Since that time, Touré has taken up residence in New York and his album, Vieux Farka Touré, was nominated for a 2008 BBC Radio 3 World Music award. He has continued working with Modiba Productions, putting out the UFOs Over Bamako album of remixes.

There are some visible changes for the current tour. For instance, Touré is working with some different musicians (listed below). During his debut visit, producer and musician Eric Herman worked with Touré. Herman originally contacted Touré with the intention to create an album to raise funds to fight malaria. But, he later began touring with the band, acting as front man and producing his album. At that time, Touré remained in the background while his guitar wizardry did most of the impressing.

Now a master of the stage, Touré has become a very experienced performer and front man. He has a very warm and relaxed presence, joking with and coaxing the audience. And, while the rest of his band were bedecked in dramatically patterned African outfits, reflecting the influences of his new American home, he chose a simple striped blue shirt, jeans, and a classy feathered fedora.

On both occasions, the band was composed of musicians who finely crafted their music. And, although appearing tired from all the recent touring, the easy groove between the players and the comfortable way each member of the band played like puzzle pieces into one another's rhythm gave the performance an easy island feel.

Vieux Farka Touré

Souleymane Kané & Mamadou Sidibé

At the front of the stage, a real party was happening that quickly fizzled as one walked towards the back of the room. As the majority of people filling the room preferred to listen rather than participate, the Mod Club had a more sedate ambiance on this evening. In contrast, at his last performance, the audience was a hip-to-hip, sweaty mass of grooving bodies.

Rather than having a sound technician control the microphones, the band requested to have full control themselves. And although it was extremely loud close to the stage, the musicians could all be heard equally well. Still, the quality of sound was much clearer as you moved closer to the back of the room. The soft lighting bathed the stage in alternating shades of chartreuse, red and gold, providing a calming effect on the room.

On calabash, Souleymane Kané possessed a driven rhythm; a rhythm which became explosive when he alternated to the djembé. On a number of songs, the interplay between Vieux and bassist, Mamadou Sidibé, although short, was sharp and precise as they hit their 'wow' target.

Although Vieux's previous performance in Toronto had more of a West African blues feel, this concert displayed influences of rock and reggae, some ska and Spanish flavours. And one piece, in particular, could have been performed by a flamenco band as the sound of castanets, compliments of Tim Keiper on percussion, tapped their way through the air. It appears that Vieux has been immersing himself in the cosmopolitan New York state of mind, allowing these diverse influences to seep into his music.

At one point, Vieux motioned that they were going to slow things down. And, for the following piece, an overlapping drum solo ignited a clapping-in-time accompaniment from the audience. And imperceptibly, as the clapping faded out, the drumming became slightly more mellow and slower paced, just as he had promised.

This slowness did not last for long as, "Courage", with its rock and rolling guitar undercurrent, once again, stirred up the room. In fact, many pieces in their performance showcased that sudden drop-off-the-cliff ending. There were also a few pieces with false endings where the audience would begin cheering only to have unwittingly interrupted the song as 'the band played on'.

As front man, Vieux tried chatting in French with the audience on a number of occasions. But, the language barrier with the majority of the audience gave him unintentionally lukewarm responses. At one point, Vieux waved to the crowd and the interpretation of this movement was immediate as many audience members cheered in response.

Later, he began a call-and-response singsong with the audience. After numerous attempts to elicit greater enthusiasm, he gave up, cut it off, and charged into a sudden instrumental (to erase the memory of dismal audience vocals?) as the band quickly caught up.

As the concert ended, the rousing audience applause, hollering and general noise-making brought out the band for an encore. A beautiful, extended version of "Dounia" was the only offering as the band retreated to the wings on the tail of the encore's final drumbeat.

Although the band clearly signaled that they had had enough, the audience tried unsuccessfully to lure them back to the stage. They got the message when Vieux showed up at the G.A.P. Adventures table (a primary sponsor of the Festival) to sign copies of his compact disk.

The Musicians
Boureima Touré (Vieux Farka Touré) – vocals, guitar
Souleymane Kané – djembé, calabash, backing vocals
Tim Keiper – drums, percussion
Aly Magassa – guitar, backing vocals
Mamadou Sidibé – bass, backing vocals
The Ongoing Battles in Africa
Ten percent of proceeds from the album, Vieux Farka Touré, will be donated to the organization Bée Sago in its fight against malaria in Niafunke, Northern Mali, which is the home region of the Farka Touré family. Affiliated with UNICEF, Bée Sago is a local award-winning organization that manufactures insecticide-treated mosquito nets and distributes them to children and pregnant women.

Modiba Productions, although primarily focused on music production, is involved in the social and economic empowerment of Africa and its Diaspora. To this end, Modiba has created The Afrobeat Sudan Aid Project (ASAP) which has raised over $130,000 for the refugees of the crisis in Darfur, Sudan.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Laila Boulos
• • • • • •
Roger Humbert
• •
The Live Music Report

| Home | Archives | CD Reviews | Photo Galleries | Concert Listings | Contact |

Please contact us to secure permission for use of any material found on this website.
© The Live Music Report – 2008