Old Farka Touré and Khruangbin: Ali’s review – inspired grooves to get lost | Music
Ali Farka Touré had a complex relationship with success outside of Africa. It came to him relatively late in life – he was nearly 50 when the music he had been recording for a small French label since the mid-1970s began to attract attention in Europe and America – and he never never seemed quite comfortable with it. His guitar playing has been compared to that of blues legends such as Robert Johnson and John Lee Hooker, but he has described the blues as “a type of powdered soap”. He occasionally collaborates with Western musicians, but tells one of them, Ry Cooder, that America is “a place of bad energy” and a “spiritual parking lot”. He’s sold hundreds of thousands of albums and won Grammys, but always had a habit of just disappearing in Mali. He followed his collaboration with Cooder, 1994’s Talking Timbuktu, by disappearing for five years and threatening to give up music altogether: he seemed more interested in farming in the village of Niafunké, his hometown, from which he eventually moved. became mayor.
Perhaps the desire to step out of his father’s considerable shadow guided Vieux Farka Touré’s approach. Certainly, he attempted to woo a mainstream audience more diligently than his father ever did. His 2007 self-titled debut album was quickly followed by a collection of remixes, which streamlined his sound for the dancefloors. He toured the United States and Europe tirelessly. And he teams up with the kind of collaborators who take his music further, including Israeli composer and pianist Idan Raichel, jazz guitarist John Scofield and American experimental singer Julia Easterlin. Her collaborative album with the latter, Tourists, included covers of Bob Dylan’s Masters of War and Fever Ray’s I’m Not Done. His latest collaboration might be his most impressive to date. Hot on the heels of June’s sparse and simple homage to her father’s sound, The Roots, comes Ali, who reinterprets some of his father’s best-known songs with Houston trio Khruangbin, a musical union that has seemingly been sealed. in a London pub around fish and chips.
It’s an inspired choice. Since 2015, Khruangbin has specialized in a kind of musical fusion reminiscent of late trumpeter Jon Hassell’s notion of fourth world music, which drew on so many global sources that it ended up evoking an alternate universe. Their sound has variously encompassed dub reggae, funk, Ethiopian jazz, Turkish psychedelia, Southeast Asian pop and Latin American cumbia without being dominated by any of them: on 2020’s fabulous Mordechai, the result was vaguely psychedelic, untraceable and utterly seductive.
They are on a similar form on Ali. For an album that was apparently recorded live in less than a week, its mood is largely blissful and unhurried: if you were looking for something to at least vaguely compare its sound to, you could settle for Air de la late 90s. Savanne is a song with quite sharp lyrics – it laments the plight of the African diaspora working menial jobs for minimal pay, angrily protesting Western intervention in African wars – but here the contrast between the words and music are gripping: they sound as if emerging through a blissful haze, voices rendered distant with echo, far less clear than the gusts of guitar that punctuate them. On other occasions, they’ve found something almost perfectly complementary: Diarabi’s romantic tale of misfortune (she married someone else after failing to find a dowry) is rendered as an entirely gorgeous R&B ballad and soft, golden with melancholic choruses.
That said, you don’t need to understand the lyrics – or, indeed, know Ali Farka Touré’s back catalog – to feel enthralled by the music here. Tongo Barra is built around a sinuous and insistent funk groove; on Mahine Me, Khruangbin unexpectedly stumbles upon an inflection of Touré’s guitar playing and surrounds it with music that bears a distinct zydeco flair; Ali Hala Abada carries a muted power. Alakarra, meanwhile, spends almost as much time fading very slowly as it does at full volume, as if its slow-motion beauty is passing you by.
It’s an album you can easily get lost in, which is probably the point: Vieux Farka Touré apparently refused to tell his fellow musicians what the songs were called before recording them, wanting to wipe the slate clean. He had one: it’s often quite shocking to listen to his father’s original versions after immersing yourself in Ali’s luscious sound world. Or rather, each potentiates the other. In the hands of Khruangbin, Lobbo does not sound a million miles from the lush soul of the 70s in the lineage of Be Thankful for What You Got by William DeVaughn, relocated to West Africa. It’s beautiful, which only makes the original 1990 sound all the more sparse and haunting. A tribute that works in its own right, while shedding new light on the music that inspired it, Ali is a wonderful thing.
This week Alexis listened to:
Tell her she – prism
The fabulous title track of the New York trio’s debut album: honeyed harmonious voices, lo-fi electronic soul accompaniment.