Vieux Farka Toure :: Fondo
It was the second time I saw Malian guitarist/vocalist Vieux Farka Touré perform, at Joe's Pub in New York City, that it happened. I was seated not five feet away, camera in hand, the soft lighting turning his turquoise garb golden. He chose a selection from his father's catalog, tore into the guitar solo, an appreciative crowd thunderous with applause. Then, a respectful silence as he embellished, as is his birthright, as is his tradition. I don't want to imply that he embodied his father from the celestial African abode or any such thing; Vieux is his own man, as Ali Farka was his own. Yet for those moments I witnessed the heritage and the evolution, the moment and the transcendence of the moment. That young man with those six strings is a powerful force.
I had the honor of producing a remix album after his debut recording. The first song on that collection, Vieux Farka Toure Remixed: UFOs Over Bamako, was by a then-Brooklyn producer, Yossi Fine. After his mix was submitted, Yossi told me on the phone that he would love to produce an entire album by Vieux. Fast-forward two years and I'm in San Francisco (where Yossi now lives), and I find out that local label Six Degrees Records is releasing Vieux's follow-up. Producer: Yossi Fine. I had no clue of either, but was happy to discover both: 6D is my favorite label, Yossi one of my favorite producers. Fondo in no way disappointed my expectations.
Most refreshing is the challenge of all production jobs: imposing onself. Fortunately Yossi did none of this. Fans of his main project, Ex-Centric Sound System, know what I am referring to: BASS. Lots of it. Tons of it. In Ex-Centric, that is the sound. Vieux is first and foremost a guitar player, and when combining forces with his Israelite counterpart, this album is magnificent. Yossi removed the Afro-sheen that tends to dilute African imports, taking out the gloss but not the cajones. The speed, the depth of Vieux's playing is represented in its entirety, drums and bass falling into place solidly, not too far in the background, not with an overbearing jingle or an overused synthesizer. It has push; it has pull; dramatics are tasteful. On top of everything else, Vieux's maturing voice dominates.
Sure, little bits of Yossi appear. That stick hit in "Samara" is slightly dubbed out. It's subtle, thus more effective. Like "Samara," "Chérie Lé" is a hyper track, with a barrage of drums holding up the backend. "Diaraby Magni" takes a cue from his debut's "Ana" with its reggaefied feel. This is what Yossi knows best, taking the opportunity to tweak the bass knobs a bit, giving it a fuller, richer feel than anything on the first record.
Again, its not surprising to witness Vieux head off in this guitar-fueled direction. What really turns one's ears up on this latest is his softness. The debut had "Diabate," but it also had Diabate: Toumani, one of his father's closest friends and a mentor. Ali Farka and Toumani appear on four of the debut's ten songs; they give him a well-deserved boost. With Fondo, Vieux is alone, and stands his ground. Forget that: he claims new territory for himself. This is impressive on the aptly titled "Slow Jam," but even more so on "Souba Souba," where he loses the kora, loses the drums, and sticks to guitars and vocals. Stunning. Ditto "Paradise," which has a "Diabate" vibe, replacing that track's sparseness with a few more colors in the acoustic spectrum. As he grows and ages, we can only expect such colorings to continue.