Vieux Farka Touré – Howard Assembly Room, Leeds, 4th February 2016

Ali Farka Touré was the first of many musicians from Mali who would ultimately find success in the west. He was a musical trailblazer, a man who drew a line between the traditional music of his homeland and that of the American south. When he died of bone cancer in 2006 a light went out all over Africa.

That light has been reignited by his son, Vieux Farka Touré whose recording career dates from the year following his father’s death. He is in Leeds this evening as part of Opera North’s 3 Generations mini-season of African music. With the venerable Senegalese musician Cheikh Lô having already appeared in the Howard Assembly Room only last month and with the creator of Ethio-jazz Mulatu Astatke due to perform here next week, Touré forms the middle part of that incredible triumvirate.

Vieux Farka Touré takes to the stage a little after quarter to eight with Jean-Alain Hohy on bass guitar and drummer Jean-Paul Melindji. For the next ninety minutes the three men take us on an astonishing, mesmeric journey past a few of the many wonderful staging posts that mark the trajectory of Touré’s musical odyssey.

Hohy and Melindji provide a powerful platform from which Touré’s talent just soars. With the most remarkable dexterity, suppleness and exquisite fluidity, his fingers trace beautiful hypnotic patterns across the fretboard and strings of his guitars. Touré’s playing is a perfect example of effortless cool. He has the ability to welcome elements of soul, funk and even western balladry into his sound, all of which can be heard through the didactic prism of his native West African blues.

As if to affirm his versatility, in the middle of the set Touré unleashes a colossal, wailing blues the like of which would not have been remotely out of place at the Monterey Pop Festival of 1967. With a neo-psychedelic sound that perhaps owes more to the English blues guitarist Robin Trower than it does Jimi Hendrix, it is little short of astonishing.

And the memory and influence of Vieux Farka Touré’s father is never that far away. Taken from his 2011 album The Secret he dedicates the song ‘Ali’ to his father and then after a rousing finale during which he finally entices the sell-out crowd to get to their collective feet he returns with Jean-Paul Melindji for a single song encore. That this song is ‘Diaraby’ and can be found on Talking Timbuktu his father’s 1994 collaboration with the American guitarist Ry Cooder is yet further recognition of the continuation of this magnificent Malian lineage.

Photo credit: Simon Godley

More photos from this show can be found here

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