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Music – Back to the roots

It is not frequent that a few seconds of music summarize the features of a whole album: nevertheless, after having listened at Vieux Farka Touré’s Mon Pays, that appears to be exactly the case of the brief opening instrumental solo of the first track, Diack So.
Indeed, since the first notes, the Mali-born guitarist and his crew are able to carry the listener into the world they evoke in the 10 tracks that make up the most recent work of the son of the late Ali Farka Touré.
When one says that with Mon Pays the 32 year-old artist goes back to his roots, however, it is not a mere reference to the legacy of his almost legendary parent, about whom Vieux is somehow shy (“I don’t want people to think that I am profiting from my father’s name; – he told Jeune Afrique – he was the best in his genre, as I try to be in mine”).
Despite including a cover of one of the deceased bluesman’s songs (Safare) on the tracklist, in fact, the treasures Mon Pays digs out are those of the whole musical culture of its author’s home nation: the title of the mostly instrumental album itself translates as ‘My country’ in English and its imagined meaning was that of a homage to Malian traditions. Even if in-between the conception and the actual recording, the war in the Sahelian nation broke out, the original intent was not lost. However, many have underlined the political meaning of this album, which becomes particularly evident in the titles of songs such as Peace and Future and this is undeniably a topic that Vieux feels as important. When stating, after the album’s release that he wanted to celebrate his nations’s ‘musical heritage’, he added that this was also a way to tell the world “that this land is for the sons and daughters of Mali, not for al-Qaeda or any militants”.

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Politics has had something to do with the album also because even music, such as other forms of cultural expression, was seen during the Malian crisis as a non-neutral issue. To use Vieux’s own words “banning music – as hardline Islamist fighters tried to do – was another way to control the people”. Music, the singer explained “for us is life”, so “when we have no music, it is like we have no life”. Or more briefly: “without music we are robbed of our identity”. The latter is something that the singer and guitarist is really willing to defend, not only because he is a Muslim himself and does not want his faith to be spoiled by extremists, but also because he understands the need to fight any form of excessive nationalism, as it is enacted with all kinds of fanaticism. Despite this, dealing with Mon Pays as if it were all about current affairs would end up by diminishing its real value, which has more to do with the artistic field.
Vieux says about himself: “I am an artist, I don’t want my name to be associated with any political part, even if the current president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, was a friend of my father”. In fact, the album, though conceived as an appeal to its audience to think back on what made their home country so great, and build it back up again, is most of all an invitation to appreciate Malian culture and beauty in their broader sense. Even if Vieux deals with political issues, he manages to do it in an original way, drawing comparisons that reveal his deeper sensibility. Take for instance the opening track, a folk song that takes its title, Diack So, from the name of another local artist, a musician who was a friend of the Touré family, but ruined himself with alcohol: it’s his personal situation that is compared to the music ban imposed by the al-Qaeda affiliates and their likes in the northern part of the country.

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This triple dimension – political, artistic and human – is also clearly recognizable in Peace and Future, which actually are duets with the kora (21-stringed West African harp) player Sidiki Diabaté, the son of the renowned Toumani Diabaté, who in turn accompanied some of Vieux’s father’s hits. Calebasse, djembé and n’goni are the other traditional instruments that, together with guitars, piano and bass, contribute to the particular sound of the twelve tracks. Also the Israeli pianist and vocalist Idan Raichel played a part in the project, thus reviving his collaboration with his African colleague, which in the past also brought many other results, such as, most recently, The Tel-Aviv Session. Generally speaking, Vieux says that his latest album is “more acoustic, more Malian”, but, he assures, “I do not close the door to rock and roll”. Nevertheless, when Mon Pays is compared to his previous albums, the difference is clear. The secret (released in 2011) was more about working on the fusion of genres (as for example happened in Sokosondou and Wonda Guay) and one will definitely not find in the guitarist’s latest work experimentations such as those he tried between 2007 and 2009: in projects as Remixed: UFOs over Bamako and Other roads: Fondo remixed, the original musical structure of some songs was so extensively modified that they were almost unrecognizable. (D.M.)

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