Interview: Vieux Farka Touré – “Les Racines”: A Continuing Fight For Freedom (July 2022)

Vieux Farka Touré‘s sixth solo album, Les Racines [the roots], was released on June 10th 2022 via World Circuit. The album’s sole purpose was to address more of the unavoidable conflicts going on in Mali today, not forgetting the fundamental topics at the core of this music. In light of the lockdowns in 2020, Vieux Farka Touré was able to fully transcend his roots in his own time and personal space “to change things, to think about it, to add things”, “It came together like this” he told us. The album is one of his most candid and extensive works to date, and Les Racines is a prime example of the Songhai music, just as it should be.

‘Ngala Kaourene’ is Vieux at his best, the track and its corresponding music video is in aid of solidarity with the people in Mali. He says, “it is very important that we come together to provide the necessary strength that we all need to get through these difficult times”.

Les Racines is about the preservation of the Songhai roots, and the transmission of information on current happenings. Whilst the album addresses topics that are both traditional and contemporary, it is less about the traditional influence in modern music but about the modern pressures in traditional music.

We reached Vieux Farka Touré to unearth more of the conversations surrounding these topics and the story of Les Racines itself.

Your new album Les Racines is due out today (10th of June). How would you introduce it?

Like the name of the album says, this is about a return to my roots. I have spent years in my career forging a new path for myself and establishing a reputation as a worthy artist in my own right, apart from carrying the torch for my father. This album embraces a return to my roots, to his roots, to the very roots of music from the north of Mali.

You’ve talked about the messages in your music, this album in particular delves even deeper into past circumstances of the African communities of Northern Mali, how did you hope to convey those messages in a way that hits home present-day?

There has been great advancement in Mali in terms of technology. Everyone has smart phones and access to all the information in the world. But still, most people in Mali do not get a full education and a great many cannot read. To this day it is musicians upon which many in Mali rely to understand what is happening in the world, especially outside of Mali. I take this responsibility as a musician very seriously, to tell my people what is happening, at least how I see things.

We know that Mali is going through a delicate and divisive period. How much is the current situation affecting the way you think and write your music?

The current situation will sometimes inspire me to write something about it, to discuss the big problems we are facing as a country and as a people. Usually this will concern just my choice of lyrics. I will write the music first, and later I will see what themes inspire me for the lyrics. Of course as the situation in Mali touches my heart, I often end up there in my lyrics.

You’ve mentioned in the past about how music in Africa can be used as a way of educating the uneducated through social and political messages in your music. How impactful do you hope the album will be in transmitting those messages?

Of course I hope it will have the maximum possible impact. I do not expect it to make a huge difference, but even if it can make a small difference in the lives of people in Mali, for me that is a big success.

I understand you recorded the album in your home studio on this occasion, particularly since the outbreak of the Coronavirus, this must have made a difference to the purity of thought and authenticity of its musical framework. What were the main benefits of cultivating and recording this album in your own time and space?

The big advantage for this album was that I had all the time that I could want. I could be very patient with the process. Often when recording an album there are just 6 or 7 days to record everything, sometimes even less. This time I had months and months to record a bit, to sit with it, to change things, to think about it, to add things. It came together like this. I appreciated this different style of making an album.

At the same time, the album is enriched by some remarkable collaborations. Can you do the honours and briefly introduce to us the guest musicians participating in ‘Les Racines’?

The main guests were Amadou Bakayoko from Amadou & Mariam and Cheick Tidiane Seck, the legendary keyboardist. Both are from Mali and live in Bamako and both are friends. Over the years we have collaborated together on various projects. Since I had so much time with this album, both of these guys were just coming into my studio for one reason or another, and I invited them to perform on the album. I am very happy and grateful that they brought their talent to this album.

The third track from the album, ‘Ngala Kaourene’, has a corresponding music video which can be found on YouTube. Could you tell us a bit about this track and what its significance is?

‘Ngala Kaourene’ is about people uniting, coming together as one. As I say in the song, only in solidarity can we find strength in Mali. There is so much division today in Mali, so many different groups fighting with each other, and many from outside the country menacing the situation. So it is very important that we come together to provide the necessary strength that we all need to get through these difficult times.

Now that the album is complete, how will you be showcasing it in the coming months/ have you any performances lined up?

Yes, I have been touring on and off for a couple of months and I will continue to tour throughout the year and next year. Next year I would like to present an acoustic group that will play the material from the album – me, calabash, ngoni and flute. This will be a different setup from what I have done touring in the past, and I am excited about that.

After 15 years of a brilliant music trajectory and career, how has your musicianship and creativity developed? Can you spot any major difference between the sound of Vieux Farka Touré, your debut album, and the one of Les Racines?

Yes of course, I have grown a lot as a musician and as a man in the last fifteen years. I have had many many experiences all around the world, I have gotten married and had four children, everything. I am at a very different stage of life and as a musician. I think with each experience you grow a little bit, a little bit of something new comes into your mind and your soul and changes you as a musician. I think now with music I am more patient and also more willing to try things and take risks.

Despite your music bringing you around the world, you live in Bamako and have a deep connection with your country and its culture. Can you let us know what is going on in the Bamako music scene and if there’s any new musician/band we should listen to?

Honestly I do not spend time out when I am in Mali. I am just at home with my family, and I love to go to Niafunke whenever I can – it is very calm and quiet there. So I do not really know about the music scene these days in Bamako. There are a lot of rappers, and that is not really the style of music that I enjoy.

We usually wrap up our interviews with a tricky question… In a few words, how would you introduce your music to someone who has never listened to it before?

I would describe my music as music that touches the heart of the blues and of rock and of funk. It is music that uses traditional language to tell a modern story.


Les Racinés, Vieux Farka Touré's new album, is out now via World Circuit Records.
You can buy your copy following THIS LINK


Photo ©: Kiss Diouara