Arts, Culture & Media

Vieux Farka Touré follows in the footsteps of his famous father

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Credit:

Sonia Narang

Vieux Farka Touré performs in the WGBH studios in Boston.

When Vieux Farka Touré was in his early twenties, he was approached by New York producer Eric Herman of the record label Modiba. Herman wanted Touré to record an album. But there was a problem.

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Touré's father, Ali Farka Touré, was a famed Malian guitarist. He didn't want his son to be a musician. So his son never told him that he was following in his father's footsteps.

With a father of such stature, the younger Touré couldn't just sign on to make an album. According to Mali's customs, the son had to share the news with his father and get his blessing.

So Touré and producer Herman traveled to his father's ancestral home of Niafunké in northern Mali. So how did his late father react?

"[He} laughed and said, ‘Him? He can’t sing. He can’t play guitar,’” recalls Touré. So Touré pulled out his guitar and played one of the songs he wrote while a student at the Institut National des Arts in Mali’s capital, Bamako. 

His father recognized his son's talent, but advised him not to record the album quite yet. First, he wanted to pass his knowledge to his son. The elder Touré had just publicly revealed that he had cancer. 

So they began a year of master classes, just father and son. 

“In that year, he gave me the secret of the music," says the younger Touré.

“In an hour of jamming and lessons, I absorbed four hours of wisdom and ideas about playing guitar, about our traditions.” 

His father's health was starting to wane, and he died a year later.

Vieux Farka Touré admits quietly that the music lessons made for an intense final chapter for them both. "We’d play together until one in the morning,” he recalls. “I had a good time with him.”

  Editor's note: This story was updated to add additional information.

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    Credit:

    Marco Werman

    Marco interviews Ali Farka Touré in the shade of a mango tree on Ali’s farm.

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    Marco Werman

    Playing cards was one of the past-times Ali Farka Touré enjoyed at his home in Niafunké.

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    Marco Werman

    It would’ve been unthinkable to forbid the near-sacred ritual of tea, but that’s what the jihadists did in Mali last year.

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    Marco Werman

    Ali Farka Touré, in the umbrella hat, plies his way across the Niger River to his farm.

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    Credit:

    Marco Werman

    Ali and one of his friends and neighbors in Niafunké, a Touareg woman. The Songhai, Ali’s ethnic group, Touareg and Fulani intermarried for decades. So social divisions were alarmingly unfamiliar in northern Mali.

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    Marco Werman

    Ali Farka Touré relaxing in his living room.

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    Marco Werman

    Main street, Niafunké, Mali.

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    Credit:

    Marco Werman

    This is the road to Niafunké. You won’t be able to find it. But the drivers who take the route regularly know every stone and pothole on the route.

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    Credit:

    Marco Werman

    Niafunké, Mali, home of the late Ali Farka Touré, birthplace of his son Vieux, is just on the other side of the river.

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