Mon Pays (Vieux Farka Touré, 2013)

'Mon Pays'

Touré’s pays is Mali, a nation riven by sectarian conflict between Tuareg and Islamic rebels, despite being regarded by many as one of Africa’s most stable nations a decade ago. According to a Guardian article from October last year, there are about 200,000 slaves in Mali; some leading extremist Islamists are attempting to ban music. This is all a source of great chagrin to Touré, a proud Muslim with a troubled family back in Bamako. His latest album – tranquil, spiritual, haunting – deals obliquely with this situation by celebrating the traditional acoustic blues of Northern and Southern Mali.

He truly is his father’s son: a wizard on guitar, exemplifying it on this album mainly by showing remarkable restraint. Played as background music, burbling along in the background, it practically stagnates in comparison to his incandescent Live (2010). Each melody sticks to its groove like a limpet to a rock, faithful to the desert blues tradition. But despite the hypnotic rhythms (courtesy of Souleyman Kane on calabash) and the restrained melody lines, this is more than mere background music. On tracks like ‘Doni Doni’, we get a sense of Touré’s fleet-fingered skill as exuberant yet melancholy melodic runs ring forth from his guitar. The call-and-response structure of several songs, such as ‘Yer Gando’, subtly reminds one of the slavery problem in Mali that continues to this day. His heartfelt, soulful vocals have the power to move, even though you probably won’t know what the hell he’s saying; no lyric sheet or translations is provided, so unless you have a working knowledge of Malian dialects, you might find yourself stranded on an island of miscomprehension.

This isn’t a masterpiece: the songs are often indistinguishable from one another, with the album becoming a bit of a groovefest after the halfway point. But at 48 minutes, it isn’t long enough to overstay its welcome, and its hypnotic quality makes it genuinely hard to turn off. As for aesthetics, you’ll be hard-pressed to find many more beautiful albums than this one all year. See for yourself why the ‘Hendrix of the Sahara’ epithet is reductionist.


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