Vieux Farka Touré at Cedar, 7/9/13
Photo by Tony Nelson
Vieux Farka Touré
Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis
Tuesday, July 9, 2013
We were not dancing enough. That appeared to be Vieux Farka Touré's chief concern between songs. If the Malian guitar hero's heavily accented English made it hard for him to explicitly tell us to move more, his amused yet insistent gesticulations unmistakably got the point across.
As constitutionally reserved Midwestern audiences go, the Cedar's are pretty game to experiment with what might happen to their bodies if given over to less familiar music; the Tuesday night crowd did in fact loosen up over time. And in our defense, the nuanced clickety-clack of Touré's calabash player, though infectious, was not designed to move Western feet as insistently as the funk-indebted Afrobeat of Femi Kuti or the uptempo grooves of Amadou and Mariam, to choose two recent shows in the Cedar's "African Summer" series. Vocally and instrumentally structured as a call and response, the music tended toward the sort of hypnotic repetition that invites you to sway rather than get down.
Also holding us back a little was Touré's astounding guitar work itself. Effortlessly flashy, its virtuosity invites dumbstruck gawking, even if the 32-year-old in the shiny two-piece patterned turquoise outfit himself indulged in no correspondingly attention-seeking stage moves. Vieux's father, the late Ali Farka Touré, is probably still the best-known African guitarist in America, and the proverbial hard act to follow. But in many ways the son is the more impressive musician, if only because he's freer to follow multiple inclinations -- unlike his dad, Vieux doesn't have to keep reminding Western fans of his music's affinity with the blues.
Photos by Tony Nelson
Not that you sense andy Oedipal resistance in Vieux's attitude toward his father -- Ali's "Safare" was one of the few songs Vieux announced by name. But his father's influence is no more apparent than it would be with any Northern Malian guitarist. And where the elder Touré's projects with the likes of inquisitive global folklorist Ry Cooder were self-consciously cross-cultural and conceptual, Vieux tends to collaborate with guys who, first and foremost, can really play, like slide-guitar master Derek Trucks of the Allman Brothers Band and jazz guitarist John Scofield, whose weakness, if any, is for virtuosity over ingenuity.
Touré's playing wasn't itself wankproof -- no one that skilled can avoid slipping into a barrage of notes for notes' sake over the course of a full performance. But even these moments were set off by an instructive contrast between traditional West African finger-picking styles -- fleet flurries that settled firmly on a chord or dissipated into plucked patterns -- and real rock-not-blues solos, complete with hammer-ons that would make any Guitar Center showoff shut up and sit down. Touré used tone impressively too: His favored sound is a bright shimmer, but he would often mute the strings for a clipped, brittle effect.
Photos by Tony Nelson
Touré's singing was strong but not commanding, warm but not heartrending, blending in with his bandmates vocal responses rather than vaulting beyond them. In his voice, you could hear that he had more serious concerns on his mind than whether we were dancing. Twice he mentioned the insurgence in Northern Mali, of special concern to performers like Touré since fundamentalists have sought to ban music.
He asked generally if we knew about what was going on, arriving at the curiously poetic phrase "the medication for the war is peace," and touted his fundraising efforts for the war's victims. A little more explanation between the songs of those lyrics were sung in a language most of his listeners didn't speak might have context.
Critic's Bias: Much as I admire the music of Touré's dad, I often prefer my African guitars less bluesy and either harsher (Senegalese mbalax) or sweeter (Congolese soukous).
The Crowd: Close your eyes and think "African music show at the Cedar."
Overheard in the Crowd: Following a particularly heroic guitar solo: "This is like a Mötley Crüe show or something." Or something.
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