There has been a veritable avalanche of recordings with a clear message that have taken exception to the Islamic fundamentalist incursion in northern Mali and the ban they have imposed on music.
It is as the great Malian singer Salif Keita says: “No music, no Mali!” It is clear that Vieux Farka Touré is in complete agreement as he uses this, his fourth studio album, to remind the world about the beauty and culture of his homeland.
Released last year, Mon Pays marks something of a departure for Touré as he replaces his trademark, majestic power-rock electric guitar style for predominantly acoustic approach.
“For me,” Touré says, “it is a statement for the world that this land is for the sons and daughters of Mali, not for Al Qaeda or any militants. This land is for peace and beauty, rich culture and tolerance.
“This is our heritage, what we must always fight to protect in any way that we can. For me, that means making music that reminds the world of who we are.”
For this mission, he joins forces with another famous son – as Vieux Farka Touré is the son of the legendary bluesman, Ali Farka Touré. And just as his father made many of his famous recordings with the kora master Toumani Diabate; so has Vieux worked with Toumani’s son Sidiki.
Sidiki too is a master of the kora, the multistring instrument that is central to much of West Africa’s immensely rich musical heritage. It is also the instrument that traditionally the griot storytellers would use to accompany the retelling of the great epics – a system of oral history that stretches back for many centuries.
But perhaps it is appropriate that the two tracks that feature Sidike’s wonderful, flowing kora playing are actually instrumentals, accompanied by Touré’s shimmering guitar work and some gentle percussion.
Two other songs, ‘Future’ and ‘Peace’ are sung in English. ‘Future’ echoes the album’s central message – how crucial it is that Malian people do not forget their great heritage, whatever happens in the country and whatever trials and tribulations they suffer.
“’Peace’ is quite simple and really speaks for itself,” Touré explains. “There is nothing more important to our country,” he insists.
Demonstrating how music passes from one generation so naturally, like the wind blowing across a wheat field, the song ‘Safare’, written by Al Farka Touré, celebrates his father’s enduring influence on his son’s life and work. The track entitled ‘Diack So’ is a reworking of a traditional folk song that pays tribute to a famous singer-songwriter. “Diack So was a singer and guitarist from my father’s generation who was destroyed by alcohol,” Touré says. “I feel like it is similar to the music of the north being destroyed by the fundamentalists. Mostly I wanted to preserve his music and pay tribute to him.”
It has been a difficult few years for Touré who was overseas on tour when the coup took place in Mali. For this reason he regrets being unable to spend more time with his own community as it faces uncertain, turbulent times.
Touré speaks directly to such circumstances on the song ‘Yer Gando’. With its call and response vocals and percussion played on a calabash by Souleyman Kane, this particular track warns of the interlopers that are trying to rob Mali of its very identity.
There is also a call for national unity and resistance to the fundamentalist invaders in the song ‘Kele Magni’, which reminds all Malians that the country belongs to every citizen.
“After the coup,” Touré recalls, “nearly my entire family that normally lives in Niafunke in the north of the country moved down to the capital Bamako. Only my eldest brother Billa stayed. I hired two guards for our house in Bamako as there were times when bandits would take advantage of the disorder by looting.”
By using his music to encourage his people, Touré is playing his part in attempting to resolve the crisis that has befallen his country. And his international stature ensures his message has a global reach.
By Vieux Farka Touré
Six Degrees Records