Vieux Farka Toure
Vieux Farka Toure / Remixed: UFOs Over Bamako
n his self-titled debut, rather than step out of his father’s long (in World Music’s blinkered terms) shadow, Vieux Farka Touré instead chose to pay tribute to Ali’s Saharan blues. The result is simultaneously impressive and disappointing. Vieux has thoroughly absorbed his father’s nomadic, perpetual-motion guitar style, reproduces it here glibly and ably. Vieux favors thicker arrangements and more robust bass-driven grooves than Ali, a preference that adds momentum while diminishing the atmospherics that made Ali’s yawning horizons entrancing in the first place.
The album that results from Vieux’s minor adaptation of Ali’s work is far from bad, but pales rather quickly, particularly in comparison with the best of his father’s work—a comparison as unfair as it is inevitable given Vieux’s deference. “Tabara” is sparse, accomplished, and Sphinx-like, yet it is hard to justify listening to that rather than almost anything off of Savane or Talking Timbuktu. “Touré de Niafunké” proves that Toumani Diabaté is one of the most beguiling and adept instrumentalists playing anywhere, but anyone who heard Diabaté’s magnificent Boulevard de l’Independence already knew that.
“Ana” hints at new directions by foregrounding Vieux’s unadorned vocals and giving them a dub setting, but Vieux is astute enough to recognize this as a dead end, and does not return to the idea. The only other notable genre experiment, “Courage,” recruits Issa Bamba on vocals, but the chorus’ florid phrasing is at odds with the taciturn music, sounding too much like the Irish twat that used to sing for Afro-Celt Soundsystem. Vieux is not quite dull, but it’s closer than it needs to be.
The remix album UFO’s Over Bamako, despite a worthy cause and a titillating, half-rhyming title, is an almost complete waste of time, like so many Afro-Celt Soundsystem bonus tracks. A proportion of proceeds from both albums go to anti-malaria programs in Vieux’s hometown Niafunké, and most of UFO’s is precisely as contrived and insipid as such a well-intentioned, briefly-incubated project might suggest to the cynical.
The worst of the remixes simply cadge a guitar phrase as an invitation to hawk by-the-numbers techno beats, conjuring shades of Enigma’s ‘90s fetishism. Only slightly better are the tracks that—like the “Third Bass Remix” of “Ma Hine Cocore”—use Vieux’s sympathy for conventionally-organized bass guitar grooves to enlarge on the bottom end, with nearly negligible results. The best of the bunch, like Chris Annibell’s remix of “Wosoubour,” which adds a lithe, “Higher Ground”-style keyboard riff, run out of ideas too quickly to justify their length.
Part of the difficulty must come from a confusion about the record’s audience. UFO’s is being pushed simultaneously as a benefit album and a “cutting-edge” addendum to the debut, yet the intersection between the two is, on the face of it, slim at best. World music fetishists will pick this up out of deference to the Touré name and for the good karma, but they will not be found lifting the roof at the club should anyone try any of these remixes out on the dancefloor. Equally fatal, Vieux’s nimble, chromatic licks are too slippery and slight to hang a crossover anthem on.
Legend has it that Ali did his best to prevent Vieux from getting into music, to protect him from exploitation and the cynicism of the business, and Vieux eventually went behind his back to demonstrate his determination and considerable ability. But, to paraphrase Dave Chappelle, whether he’s dancing or merely shuffling remains to be seen.