Record Review: Vieux Farka Toure – The Secret (Six Degrees)

Vieux Farka Toure with ‘The Secret’ is establishing himself as a premier act in the realm traditional, global music. This album offers a varied sound, with outstanding musicianship, songwriting and production and creates rich and emotional listening experiences.

Mali is the epicenter of African music; it is a bottomless repository of music tradition. The musical landscape in Mali is quite different from the Western countries; it is much less formalized and institutionalized. Music development is based largely on families; it is a form of inheritance. That is particularly evident in the case of kora. Kora is an important music instrument that has evolved mainly in families of Jalis (traditional historians and storytellers).

Vieux’s story is quite different. Vieux is the son of Ali Farka Toure, probably the most popular musician to come from Africa. Although he belongs to a tribe of soldiers and Ali discouraged him to get involved in music he did not hesitate to pick up the guitar and go to music college. So, music became unintentionally a family ‘business’ from father to son.

‘The Secret’ is a varied release creating different emotions with shifting tempos and sensibly-tinged textures that have a progressive take on traditional West African music. The musicianship is stunning whether talking about Vieux himself, his band or the guest musicians. The compositions are also stellar; in their diversity, they are put together in a way to create a certain flow and more importantly keep the interest high at all times. Finally,the quality of the production is immense, scored by Eric Krasno (from Soulive fame).

Vieux’s music has become what he intends to accomplish: Northern Malian music with its distinct melodies and rhythms blended with Western rock, blues and roots music in general.  I need to note here that Vieux’s objective is to dig deep into his own culture and by keeping a global perspective push it forward.

African dessert rock comes to mind (at times reminiscent of Tiwarinen), but the unique Farka element is also present. The result is aery, tribal soundscapes at times heavier, loaded with a rocking edge. Percussions are jazzy and ethnic, creating pulsating rhythmic carpets in the shadow of the guitars delivered with superb dexterity (kudos to Tim Keiper). Guitars are multilayered, creating dense fabrics of polyphonic melody that have a mind-traveling effect when floating in retrograde patterns.

Vieux Farka Toure

‘Sokosondou’ displays an ‘artisanal’ beginning by skillfully crafting on the ‘organic’ beats with the trademark guitar work. The vocals are particularly catchy, something that counts for many songs on ‘The Secret’ – most melodies are digestible without sacrificing the ethnic identity at all. ‘Aigna’ is a characteristic example, although the slide guitar of Eric Krasno might seem to be at odds with the rest of the instrumentation.

On the other hand, the songs built up the more you listen to them – especially for the listener who is not trained to ‘exotic’ sounds it might take a couple of turns.  Other exceptional tracks are ‘All the same’ with the haunting vocals of Dave Matthews, the funky jamming of ‘Watch out’, the title track featuring astonishing woodwind soloing on a guitar riff of Ali Farka Toure and the enchanting ‘Wonda Guay’ with the amazing tribal vocals.

There are thrilling moments almost in every song. It is definitely a landmark album that proves that Malian music and African music in general has a clamant present and most primising future. This release is balanced between tradition and tasteful progress, opening wondrous music pathways for the future.



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