VIEUX FARKA TOURE performing as part of KUUMBA at Harbourfront Centre (235 Queens Quay West), Saturday (February 10), 10 pm. $15. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNNN
Twenty-five year-old Malian guitar hotshot Vieux Farka Touré is following in the footsteps of his late father, the celebrated Ali Farka Touré, but that's hardly shocking.
Listening to his entrancing self-titled debut disc for World Village - which he'll present Saturday (February 10) at Harbourfront, appropriately where his father last appeared in Toronto some six years ago - you can hear that the kid twangs the Bamako blues like a Niger River delta veteran twice his age.
He realized the guitar - which he took up only a few years ago - was his future from the first note.
"As a young child," Touré recalls through a translator, "when my father played guitar, and I sat next to him and watched what he was doing. From that moment on, it was my only ambition to be a musician like my father."
However, if the elder Touré had his way, Vieux would be using an AK-47 instead of a Stratocaster. Ali Farka Touré had been so ruthlessly ripped off by concert promoters and label owners as the six-string ambassador of Malian culture that he felt any dangers his son might face as a soldier during a Tuareg uprising would be preferable to the soul-destroying treachery of dealing in the dirty business of music.
"In our culture, the children in large families are often raised by other family members. Because my father had 11 children and his brother had none, I was raised by my Uncle Jubaro until the age of nine. Since my uncle was in the military, my father thought it was appropriate for me to pursue a military career, too. But I was more interested in music."
The issue became a source of friction between the two. There's good reason why both had the middle name Farka, which means "donkey"; the father had a wicked stubborn streak, and so does junior.
But the shit really hit the fan when Ali found out that Vieux had been secretly learning to play guitar against his will. Oh, the drama.
"He cut me off financially so I wouldn't have the money to pay for transportation to school. He also stopped giving me pointers. It was only when I graduated that my father finally started to accept that I was determined to become a professional musician."
At around the same time, his father learned that the bone cancer he'd been fighting was terminal. Ali began grooming Vieux as his successor, confiding the real-life horror stories of his exploitation in France so that his son might avoid some of the same pitfalls. Ali also enlisted his close friend, kora virtuoso Toumani Diabaté, to act as Vieux's personal adviser. Diabaté is known for his business acumen. Toronto-born producer Eric Herman found out how Diabaté got the nickname Too Much Money first-hand when he proposed the idea of recording Vieux's debut album.
Herman's real master stroke was convincing Ali to collaborate on the songs Tabara and Diallo, whose call-and-response solo exchanges serve as a sonic passing of the torch from father to son. It's also a fitting sign-off for Ali Farka Touré, who died in Bamako at the age of 66 one year ago.
"I was able to get access to Vieux and involve Ali in the project because I wasn't a typical producer with hidden agendas," explains Herman. "I wasn't coming to Africa and licking my lips at the prospect of doing a record with Ali Farka Touré's son.
"I'd met Vieux as a fellow musician, and we'd developed a friendship while I was studying at the Arts Institute in Mali. One day I heard this guitar blaring from around the corner that sounded like Ali Farka Touré's stuff. A small crowd had formed around this guy, and somebody nudged me, saying, 'That's Ali Farka Touré's son. '"
FATHERS AND SONS
Malian guitar great Ali Farka Touré and son Vieux aren't the first fab family tandem. Here's the evidence that talent is hereditary.
Hank Williams and Hank Williams Jr.
At first it seemed like the music-making gene might've skipped a generation, but over the years Bocephus has proven himself to be a top tunesmith and a stadium-filling entertainer.
Bob Dylan and Jakob Dylan
Judging by the Wallflowers' output, Jakob Dylan will never pen a Blowin' In The Wind of his own, but on the upside, he may not sink to selling his tunes for bank commercials.
Randy Bachman and Tal Bachman
Tal Bachman won't ever come up with a riff that will best his dad's Takin' Care Of Business lick, but, hey, Tal can take comfort in knowing She's So High will be teen romance film soundtrack fodder for decades to come.
Loudon Wainwright III and Rufus Wainwright
Rarely has a father-and-son pair provided so much embarrassing material about each other (see Rufus Is A Tit Man and Dinner At Eight). But now that Loudon is focusing on acting, Rufus might finally be able to give dear old Dad a taste of life in the shadows.