Until recently if you were to Google the word ‘jihad’, guess which region of the world you’d be referred to,
Ali Farka Toure’ was descended from this small increasingly-mixed group called ‘Arma’, thus making any conclusions about his music comprising the ‘DNA of blues’ largely meaningless, circles interlocking and turning back on themselves to infinity. If Ali Farka Toure’s music indeed is the origin of blues, then it itself may ultimately derive from Spanish and Arab traditions up north. It doesn’t matter, of course. His music was legendary because it was good, and comprised something of a transition style between the raw jangly Tuareg style farther north (only recently come to full fruition) and the more polished Afro-pop styles of the West African coastal regions. For lack of a better term, it can probably be best described as ‘
‘Sokosondou’ gets things off to a rockin’ start, displaying Vieux’s signature guitar style, something like dad Ali’s gone electric, something of a running style that seems to have no beginning nor end, a largely unpunctuated style, a snapshot of Vieux’s oeuvre in process. ‘Aigna’, featuring Derek Trucks on slide guitar, ups the ante a notch, slow with slide wailing, vocals a repetitive chant that gives Derek lots of room to shine. ‘All the Same’, featuring Dave Matthews on vocals gives some insight into Vieux’s lyrical preferences, like ‘when you look at them are they all the same? Smiles and promises… cry real tears till you believe… they don’t want you, want what you got… look at me because I believed, turned my back felt the knife sink deep,’ etc. etc. Betrayal seems to be a big theme. This song also lets Vieux pick some blues licks, too, on his own, shades of Derek. ‘Ali’ sounds a lot like dad, not unsurprisingly, but Vieux’s own take, the slow rhythmic chanting over thumping percussion. ‘Watch Out’ features Eric Krasno, the album’s producer, on guitar and Ivan Neville on organ= funk, rockin’ and bopping. There’s even some genuine guitar interplay, not easy, since Vieux’s style is so singular. I’m not sure if Eric could have done this on day one… nice.
‘Wonda Guay’ is a mid-tempo folksy number, familiar Vieux turf, but title song ‘The Secret’ featuring dad Ali Farka Toure on one of his final efforts, is an especially nice instrumental number that lilts along effortlessly gliding between acoustic and electric guitars, dad and son. From that point on, Dad is gone, and Vieux asserts himself. ‘Borei’ rocks, and Vieux wails, guitar and vocals, too. ‘Sankare Diadje’, with its sing-song lyrics, is a change-up. ‘Gido’, featuring the venerable John Scofield, may have been an experiment, but becomes one the of the album’s best songs, killer guitar and minor keys, brooding and mysterious. Vieux should explore this
Then there’s the live show, specifically the live show a few nights ago in the Silverlake district off LA. Forget the slow folk ballads. This is kick-ass power-trio blues. I’ve seen Vieux twice before, but I’ve never seen this. This is what a post–psychedelic Hendrix might have sounded like, back to blues, thick and heavy, laying down grooves in sonic washes. Drummer Tim Keiper is a revelation, too. He gets to cut up on stage like he can’t on disc, showing his own style of talking drum kit. The ultimate Vieux Farka Toure’ album just might be a live one. Till then ‘The Secret’ will do nicely. Check it out. Better still, if you can catch these guys on the road this summer, do that, too. Don’t forget to dance.