I wanted to pay homage to our musical heritage," says a reflective Vieux Farka Touré. Being that his native Mali has been splintered by territorial fighting between Tuareg and Islamic rebels since January 2012, his new album, Mon Pays (Six Degrees Records), is devoted to reminding the world about the beauty and culture of his homeland.
For me it is a statement for the world that this land is for the sons and daughters of Mali, not for Al Qaeda or any militants. This land is for peace and beauty, rich culture and tolerance. This is our heritage, what we must always fight to protect in any way that we can. For me, that means making music that reminds the world of who we are."
Translating as My Country," this predominantly acoustic undertaking had been planned before the invasions began. Inspired by his work with Israeli pianist and vocalist Idan Raichel, Touré initially went into a Bamako studio to honor the acoustic blues tradition of Northern and Southern Mali. Since that time, Mon Pays transformed into an artifact of cultural preservation.
The conflict in Mali includes a ban on music and a resurgence of slavery. Touré speaks directly to such tragedies on Yer Gando." With its call-and-response style vocals and Souleymane Kane’s calabash rhythm, the song warns of foreign invaders robbing Mali of its heritage. Similarly, he declares that his nation belongs to every citizen on Kele Magni."
Two songs with English titles — Future" and Peace" — are directly inspired by this situation. The instrumental gems feature Sidiki Diabate’s kora leading an emotional charge complemented by Touré’s spectacular guitar work, as well as subtle percussion flourishes by Tim Keiper.
Both of these songs represent an important generational shift —Sidiki’s father, Toumani, was a close friend of Vieux’s father Ali. Their two records together, In the Heart of the Moon and Ali and Toumani, were awarded Grammies. At the 2011 ceremonies, Vieux accepted the prestigious award for his father, who had recently passed from bone cancer.
The most important thing is for the people of Mali to remember that whatever is happening now, we all have a future and it is up to us to create it today," Touré says. 'Peace' is quite simple and speaks for itself. There is nothing more important to our country."
The young guitarist remembers his father on Safare," written by the elder Touré. He pays homage to a family friend by reinventing the traditional folk song, Diack So." One of his favorites from the abundant African catalog, the sweet melody was not the only thing that drew him in.
It is a homage to the great Diack So, who was a singer and guitarist from my father’s generation who was destroyed by alcohol. I feel like it is similar to the music of the north being destroyed by the Islamists. Mostly, I wanted to preserve his memory and pay tribute to him."
Touré recalls a more recent inspiration in Idan Raichel. The Israeli musician was a huge fan of Touré when randomly running into him at an airport. A quick bond formed. When Raichel invited him to perform at a series he was curating at the Tel Aviv Opera House, the men jammed for a few hours in a local studio. The result was The Tel-Aviv Session, a defining album for both of these accomplished musicians.
While touring their collaborative record, Raichel laid down piano for a song that became Ay Bakoy," the closing track on Mon Pays. The mournfully melodic tune was a natural fit for Touré’s ever-expanding aesthetic. Idan is like my brother now," he says. We have become very close friends and collaborators. Working with him is like water flowing down a river. It is very easy and natural for us."
Ay Bakoy" also showcases Touré’s finest vocals. A sense of yearning combined with a deep knowledge of his nation’s history unfolds over the six-and-a-half minutes allotted. While he tackles a number of topics throughout Mon Pays — respect to his wife and family, paying homage to Niafunke’s Nouhoume Maiga, as well as a tribute to God — it is the crisis in Mali that dominates these 47 minutes of heartbreaking and inspirational music.
Considering he has been on tour since the coup d’état which exiled tens of thousands of Malians from the north, Touré has not spent as much time as he’d like at home. But he remains in constant communication with friends and family, ensuring everyone is safe.
After the coup, nearly my entire family that normally lives in Niafunke moved down to Bamako," he says. Only my eldest brother Billa stayed. I hired two guards for our house in Bamako because there were times where bandits would take advantage of the disorder by looting. All of these terrible events have made life very hard there. We were already a poor country and now there is really nothing left. We must build everything again from nothing."
Touré takes his Muslim identity seriously and is disheartened by the extremist plot to take over this desert land. In possibly the most tragic move, the Islamists threatened musicians, forcing a ban on any music wherever they have power. That’s why Touré dedicated Mon Pays to his nation — to remind the world, as well as his fellow Malians, of the beauty of his country.
The Islamists in the north are not true Muslims," he concludes. They are militant groups that are only interested in their own power. They are hypocrites. Banning music was another way to control the people. Music for us is life. When we have no music, it is like we have no life. Without music we are robbed of our identity."