Take the Road to Malian Music Mastery

Vieux_Farka_Toure_FondoVieux Farka Touré: Fondo (Six Degrees) The late Ali Farka Touré's 28-year-old son Vieux inherited his father's talents. In both his singing and his stinging guitar style, Vieux is a chip off the old block; he taught himself guitar by playing along with his father's albums and learning his tuning system. So it's not surprising that he sometimes sounds exactly like his dad on his second album, Fondo ("the road"), especially on the traditional song "Walé" (all other tracks are Vieux originals), and certainly fans of his father's music -- especially his bluesy, keening guitar style -- will enjoy this album.

But Vieux is not content to merely copy; his music has a distinct personality, often denser, its style slightly more modern. It's not that he's been seduced by synthesizers or similar electronic accoutrements, it's the way the drumming is heavier (for instance, the rock-reggae beat of "Diaraby Magni"); interestingly, a little biographical research shows that Vieux was a drummer before he was a guitarist.

For variety, there's the beautiful instrumental "Paradise," featuring kora virtuoso Toumani Diabaté. That and a short instrumental reprise of the opening song, "Fafa," close the album on a gentle note.

My only complaint is that Six Degrees has left non-natives in the dark as far as song lyrics -- no lyric sheet, no translations, not even those little song-by-song summaries world-music fans are used to. Nonetheless, on its musical merits alone, Fondo just might turn out to be the best new African album of 2009. - Steve Holtje

 Vieux Farka Touré - Fondo Steve Holtje

Mr. Holtje is a Brooklyn-based poet and composer who splits his time between editing Culturecatch.com, working at the Williamsburg record store Sound Fix, and editing cognitive neuroscience books for Oxford University Press. No prizes for guessing which pays best.

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