Plea for Peace

Plea for Peace

Malian superstar Vieux Farka Touré brings a call for peace to the Levitt Friday

By Bliss Bowen 07/10/2013

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Touring represents a kind of exile, albeit a self-imposed variety, in that musicians are compelled to leave home for extended periods of time for the sake of employment. For globetrotting guitarist Vieux Farka Touré, that sense of exile has been tragically compounded by the ongoing crisis in his native Mali. 

Half a million citizens are reportedly still displaced since a March 2012 military coup, in the wake of which extremists stormed in and seized control of the West African nation’s northern region. They subsequently imposed a severe form of sharia law — including a strict ban on music, which plays a central role in Mali’s rich and tolerant culture. Many of Farka Touré’s relatives were forced to flee his hometown of Niafunké, in central Mali, and head south to the capital city of Bamako. 

The state of emergency declared at the time of France’s January military intervention was just lifted, and most of Mali has been reclaimed by the French-supported Malian army. But the situation remains unstable, even as presidential elections have been scheduled for July 28. This week, Fernando Arroyo of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Mali declared that “the social tissue in places like Timbuktu is broken,” where Arab and Touareg communities have departed the normally diverse region in fear of retaliation.

Farka Touré, who has been on tour for much of this year, addresses that complicated situation with his newest album, “Mon Pays (My Country),” which issues a mournful call for peace. The violent banning of music ruptured Mali, where music is far more than just cool grooves heard on ringtones. Traditionally, music has been key to dialogue binding communities together. Griots, or musical storytellers and praise singers, officiate at major rites of passage: baptisms, weddings, funerals. The music ban not only robbed individual artists of their creative expression and livelihoods, but in a real sense robbed Mali of its free collective voice as well.

Born in 1981, Farka Touré is not a griot, but as the son of late “desert blues” legend Ali Farka Touré, he embodies Mali’s storied musical heritage. He celebrates those traditions throughout “Mon Pays,” with electrifying fretwork and songs steeped in the rhythms of history. “Peace” and “Future” are dressed with the eloquent kora melodies of Sidiki Diabate, son of Ali Farka Touré’s longtime colleague Toumani Diabate. Another musician family friend is saluted with the entrancing folk tune “Diack So.” Melancholy call-and-response vocals tumble over arpeggiated guitar figures throughout the roiling “Yer Gando,” while the more lighthearted “Kele Magni” and “Ay Bakoy” sound notes of hope. On the surface, it’s all musically rewarding; listen deeper, and you hear a vital artist pining for his country.  

Vieux Farka Touré performs at Levitt Pavilion in Memorial Park, 85 E. Holly St., Pasadena, 8 p.m. Friday. Admission is free. For information, call (626) 683-3230.


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