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Vieux Farka Toure

Howard Assembly Room, Leeds
Thursday 4 February 2016

The last time I came to the Howard Assembly Room in Leeds was just over a week ago, when I was here to see a great set by the Senegal singer and percussionist Cheikh Lo. As I was leaving the venue I noticed a record shop almost directly over the road, Relics Records, and made a mental note to pop in on my next visit to the city. This afternoon I drove into Leeds a little earlier than usual to do a spot of what I think I do best, that is to browse through old LP records, the two ounces of black plastic with a hole in the middle variety, which in my case has always been akin to looking through old family photographs; memories of the past immediately springing from the gatefold sleeves, a memory of a time before the CD jewel case and minute insert where the printed word is only detectable with the help of a microscope.

Whilst browsing the bargain bins, the vintage jazz section, the Steve Miller Band's back catalogue and in particular the store's impressive Jimi Hendrix collection, I was reminded that the artist I was in town to see tonight has himself been referred to as the 'Hendrix of the Sahara', a nice moniker to have and behold, although I should imagine a bit of a chore to live up to.

Tonight as I took my seat for what promised to be a remarkable show (at least I hoped so, as it was my job to remark upon it), I began to think what Jimi Hendrix might have made of these surroundings. I would imagine that the guitarist's pyrotechnic shenanigans at Monterey wouldn't particularly go down as well with Opera North's current health and safety policy. To be honest I don't think Vieux Farka Touré would really be up for pulling such a stunt, not in Leeds at any rate. What he was up for doing though was to entertain a packed room with his own particular brand of Sahara blues, a music that apparently runs in the family. 

Born in Niafunké, Mali in 1981, the son of legendary Malian guitar player Ali Farka Touré, Vieux was encouraged by his father to follow an entirely different path, that of a soldier, rather than becoming a musician like his dad. It was the intervention of family friend Toumani Diabaté, a musician who played at this venue last year with his own son Sidiki, who convinced his friend that he should allow his son to become a musician.

Although Vieux Farka Touré is now known as a guitar player, his first forays into music was as a drummer and calabash player, presumably to shrug off his father's initial influence, but eventually the genes dictated and a blues guitarist he became. The Jimi Hendrix comparison was most noticeable tonight in the actual band format of guitar, bass and drums. Joining the guitarist on stage was Jal and Biguy on bass and drums respectively, pretty much emulating the power of such trios as The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream and Rory Gallagher's Taste, but with their own specific African slant on things. Vieux was quick to say after the show that this wasn't really a band, which I read to mean that the focus of the show was the singer/guitarist with a hired rhythm section. This may or may not be the case but the tightness of the overall sound indeed felt like a band.

Although the show was hugely enjoyable with the audience being treated to some exceptional musicianship throughout, there were times during the set where I found myself desperately hankering for some of the collaborative sounds the musician has brought to us through his records, such as the sound of the aforementioned Kora players Toumani and Sidiki Diabaté, the Israeli pianist Idan Raichel who plays beautifully on Toure's MON PAYS release and more recently the American singer Julia Easterlin, whose collaborative album TOURISTES is Vieux Farka Toure's most recent release. But we can't have it all.

With little dialogue between the songs, the guitarist encouraging the audience to 'move' in their seats, demonstrating what he meant by 'moving' beneath his rich golden tunic. The audience were soon moving, not only in their seats but out of them, in the aisles and up on the balcony.

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky