Malian musician Vieux Farka Touré Wednesday night at Jazz Aspen Snowmass Cafe

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times

Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Touré plays two shows tonight in Jazz Aspen's JAS Cafe Series at the Little Nell.
Zeb Goodell |

Vieux Farka Touré

Wednesday night at 7 and 9:30

JAS Cafe at the Little Nell

As a recent in-depth piece in the New Yorker magazine reported, Mali, in northwest Africa, has become a recent battleground among ethnic and religious factions, with the threat of Islamist extremists infiltrating the government. But the article also noted Mali’s centuries-old cultural history, and the prominent place musicians have in the country.

Vieux Farka Touré is among those musicians. The 33-year-old son of the late Ali Farka Touré, a legendary guitarist who ranked 76 on Rolling Stones’ list of the Great Guitarists of All Time, the younger Touré is carrying on his father’s legacy. He performs Wednesday night in Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ JAS Café Series at the Little Nell, and shared some thoughts via email on Mali, the guitar and his new album, “Mon Pays.”

The Aspen Times: Your father, the famed guitarist Ali Farka Touré, reportedly did not want you to play the instrument. At times in the past, governments in Africa have banned guitar-playing. Why is the guitar considered so dangerous?

Vieux Farka Touré: The guitar is dangerous because it summons people around it, it brings masses together. Also the music of the guitar can be fierce and powerful so it can inspire people to be carried by their emotions and to act on them. This is dangerous if you are a government, for example, hoping to suppress a rebellion. For me, I understand why these tyrants ban guitars. Guitars are a symbol of freedom.

AT: Even with the guitar practically outlawed, it has become a big part of North African culture, represented by musicians including Habib Koité, Tinariwen, Afel Bocoum and your father. How has that happened?

VFT: It was great musicians like my father and like Boubacar Traoré who made the guitar popular in Mali. Once the milk has left the breast of the cow, it cannot go back in. Now we have many great guitarists despite the political problems we face as musicians.

AT: Your new album is titled “Mon Pays” — French for “my country” — and is a nod to the ethnic and political conflicts in Mali. What can music do to ease such problems?

VFT: Music is food for the soul. Music can inspire the hearts of men and women and provide joy and strength in times of great despair. This is such a time for Mali, so now more than ever we need our music to give us strength. I wanted to remind everyone, not just the people of Mali but everyone in the world, of the beauty of our music and the depth of our culture. This is why I made this album.

AT: Despite his resistance to your becoming a musician, did your father teach you to play? Did he eventually come around to having you follow his path into music?

VFT: Yes, eventually he became very supportive of me, once he knew that this was the path I was determined to walk. He taught me a great many things about music, about the guitar, but more importantly about life and how to conduct myself in business, in my family and in my life in general. He was the wisest man I have ever met.

AT: Who are some of the other musicians who have had a significant influence on you?

VFT: Some other influences on my music are Toumani Diabate, Oumou Sangare, Afel Bocoum, Jimi Hendrix of course, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Eric Clapton and Alpha Blondy.

AT: You have collaborated with Dave Matthews, Derek Trucks and John Scofield. But probably the most significant ongoing collaboration you have is with the Israeli-born singer-songwriter Idan Raichel. How did that come about, and what common ground do the two of you share?

VFT: I met Idan in an airport in Germany years ago and then we connected again in Spain and he played a show with my band. We became friends and he invited me to Israel to play a concert. So I went to Tel Aviv, we had a very nice show and then we went into the studio the next day just to play and have fun. But instead, we ended up recording an album and that was the beginning of the Touré Raichel Collective. Now we are very good friends. I used to think he was a crazy hippie, and it’s true that he is crazy, but he is a great musician and a great friend.

AT: Do music and musicians hold a place of greater importance in Africa than in a place like the U.S.?

VFT: I do not know this because I cannot feel what it means to be an American musician. But I think for us it is probably a more important position in society because you are not just an entertainer and a celebrity figure but you are also like a journalist. You are supposed to share news and moral teachings with the public and report to them what is happening in the world and in their own country. The musician has a very important role for us so I think it must be even more important than for an American musician.

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