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It was a chance meeting between flights at a German airport. Two bands on tour notice each other's guitars and start talking. One act's led by a guitarist from Mali, the other by an Israeli keyboardist. Four years later, Vieux Farka Touré and Idan Raichel are on the road together — including an April 16 stop at the Dakota — as the Touré-Raichel Collective, having just released a remarkable album, The Tel Aviv Session, that speaks volumes about the artistic and human rewards of multicultural collaboration.
"The thing that surprised me almost every minute was to see how natural these bridges between cultures can be built," Raichel says by phone from New York, ahead of a performance with his other band, the Idan Raichel Project. "People from totally different areas: a Muslim guitar player playing with a Jewish guy from Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is very New Yorkish: 24/7. He's coming from a village; very funky. I'm very, very production-oriented, playing over and over and fixing and overdubbing. And he's just playing the moment. He's coming from a dynasty of Malian music and I'm coming from a country of immigrants."
Individually, Touré and Raichel already have established glowing reputations on the world-music circuit. Vieux Farka Touré inherited the traditional Malian desert blues mantle from his late father, legendary guitarist Ali Farka Touré, but has quickly established his own identity as a 21st-century guitar virtuoso by incorporating elements of western rock, jazz, and pop. Raichel is an Israeli superstar whose band is the country's most popular, unexpectedly — then repeatedly — topping the charts with a sound drawn from the myriad roots of Israel's diverse populace and an overall message of tolerance and understanding.
The Toure-Raichel Collective
perform on Monday, April 16,
at Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant; 612.332.1010
During the airport encounter, Raichel asked if he could sit in with Touré's band, which he eventually did. Raichel then invited Touré to perform in Tel Aviv. Afterward, they wanted to keep playing. Raichel suggested a studio to "see what will happen." The pair, joined by Israeli bassist and mutual friend Yossi Fine and Malian calabash player Souleymane Kane, ended up jamming for hours while the tapes rolled.
"I went to the studio with him because I like him and he impressed me when he jammed with my band in Spain a couple years earlier," Touré says via email from Mali. "Nothing was planned. Everything was improvised on the spot. That's not how I've done any other recordings in my life. Also, I was playing only the acoustic guitar, so the personality of my sound on the guitar was different. We didn't have any pressure on us because we didn't think we were doing something serious. We were just jamming for the pleasure of it."
"It was very raw material that I took and edited for 18 months," Raichel adds. "I was going back and forth with it because it's very delicate, like a diamond that is wrapped with a lot of mud."
The album does seem like a journey through a rich landscape full of marvelous vistas and fascinating detours. Sinuous melodies evolve and blossom, flowing between guitar and piano with the natural but transfixing progression of a river current. Some tracks are more urgent, like "Experience," with Touré's knotty note clusters and Raichel's rumbling chords, and the vibrant, harmonica-laced "Touré." More subtle drama lurks in others, like "Azawade," with Fine and Kane contributing. Kane will be along on tour, with Israeli bassist Amit Carmeli subbing for Fine.
Although Tel Aviv is a departure for both musicians, each is a cultural adventurer who has tapped into a rainbow of genres, in the process dissolving barriers and finding indelible ties. Last year on The Secret Touré fused bits of funk, jazz, soul, and rock to traditional Malian rhythms and melodies already bearing a striking resemblance to blues from the Mississippi Delta. "It is one family," Touré says of the cross-Atlantic blues, "one tradition that has evolved in different places but with the same DNA."
Touré's music is influenced by Ali and kora master Toumani Diabaté, whom he calls "a second father." But Touré's musical soul also belongs to an American icon, Jimi Hendrix: "You watch the videos of him playing at Woodstock — wow! My God, this guy...there are no words."
Raichel, meanwhile, creates the soundtrack of the cosmopolitan Israeli streets. He's used nearly 100 singers and musicians on his Project's four albums. "The reason that it made big news in Israel is because it was the first time the hits on the charts in Israel were not in Hebrew," he says, "Imagine that in New York — a singer singing in Cantonese Chinese from Chinatown beat all the hits of Madonna and Beyoncé. We recorded our friends, who are the minorities: immigrants from Ethiopia, Morocco, Yemen, former USSR, Colombia, really from all over."
It's that sort of open-mindedness and unwavering quest for fresh inspiration that brought Touré and Raichel together, maybe suggesting something more profound even than the striking music they produced. "Yes, I think so," Touré says. "I think it helps to show people that color does not matter. Race and ethnicity doesn't matter. Religion does not matter. What matters is the human connection between people, and if people are open to making those connections then they will connect, and good things will happen as a result."