Vieux Farka Touré, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Wednesday 15 February 2012
Every now and then, if you’re very lucky, you get to witness a live performance that blows everything else away. A gig that’s so inspiring it leaves you with a lasting smile etched on your face and a burning desire to download every track the artist has ever recorded. Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce Vieux Farka Touré.
Son of the late, great Ali Farka Touré, the twentysomething Malian guitarist has been busy making a name for himself with his progressive take on traditional African sounds, spooning a generous helping of rock, and a soupçon of Latin into his musical melting pot.
Tonight’s gig marks the midway point of Touré’s UK tour to promote third album <ital>The Secret<unital>. It’s a great record, a lush jazz-infused, beautifully produced piece that seems set to win over new fans to his brand of desert blues-fused rock. But the live show is in a different league altogether.
The lights go down and Touré, bassist Valery Assouan and percussionist Tim Keiper take to the stage clad in traditional loose fitting African suits. However, there’s nothing loose about this performance – from the opening track “Slow jam” bubbly funky bass and crisp percussion are bound together by Touré’s teasing guitar to take us on a journey from Mali to the Mississippi and back again.
Touré and Assouan can’t stop smiling, egging each other on with cheeky little dance moves as they lay down each groove before Touré peels away to take on the soaring solos. His fingers slide effortlessly over the strings, a rapt expression on his face. The pair look like they’ve been playing together since they were in nappies. And every now and then Touré catches Keiper’s eye and nods. It’s the tightest performance I’ve witnessed in years.
By the time they get to the third track “Souba” the audience is eating out of their hands, religiously following Assouan’s lead to clap along to Touré’s delicate guitar and vocals, while Keiper pops out from behind his drum kit to shake all manner of shells and bells.
Don’t understand the words? Stephen Ellis from Revere is invited onto the stage to sing vocal subtitles for “All the same”, passionately translating Touré’s inspiring lyrics after each verse.
Next rising star of British blues Oli Brown shuffles on for a sublime, <ital>Crossroads<unital>. -esque duelling guitar version of “Walaidu”.
Finally Touré even manages to break the taboo of the reverential all-seated gig. He demands that everyone get up and dance for “Namaimuna” and encore “Amanke”. It’s a fitting celebratory finale to a hugely memorable evening.
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