blues

Vieux Farka Touré

Vieux Farka Touré @ Nells Jazz & Blues   15.01.18  Photo: Sophie Darling 

Vieux Farka Touré @ Nells Jazz & Blues

15.01.18

Photo: Sophie Darling 

15.01.18 

Nells jazz & Blues (South Kensington)  

When I was faced with the opportunity to go to Vieux Farka Touré’s show in the South of London I was ecstatic. For me, the musical legacy of Vieux’s pioneering father; Ali Farka Touré would have been enough in itself, however the beautiful albums that have preceded Vieux Farka Tourés musical career make it clear that Vieux is expressing an innovative and personal style, differing from his fathers, but still remaining within the legacy.

A quick note on the legacy of Ali Farka Touré (1939-2006). Touré is one of Africa’s most internationally renowned artists. Ali Farka Touré took the electric guitar, so far belonging to the American blues, and innovated an eclectic genre combining West African musical traditions with the blues. All the while arguing that the blues is historically derived from African musical traditions anyway. In this sense, by playing the African blues and being one of the first Malian musicians to take his music out of Mali and take it global, out of Africa,  Ali Farka Touré managed to attain some African ownership over blues music, that had previously been incorrectly and wholly associated globally within a purely American context. This thus changed the face and historical make-up of North West African music from an outsiders perspective, and from an insiders, created a new platform of music making. 

Ali Farka Touré was born into a family of warriors, not musicians. In Mali and much of North/West African traditions, musicians are born into their musical families, and thus learn hereditarily, these families and musicians are called ‘griots’ or ‘jeli’ and they become the leading authoritative on all things to do with their instruments, be it a Kora or a Balafon, or percussion such as a calabash. Neither Ali nor Vieux were born into this griot family, and so it was quite strange at first to have an non-jeli learn the musical ways. However, after some convincing Ali Farka Touré allowed Vieux to learn to be a musician after family friend Toumani Diabaté convinced Ali. Diabaté being a famous Malian griot family learned in the Kora. 

Since Vieux began a debut album, of which his father Ali features as well as Toumani Diabaté. Vieux’s father sadly died in 2006 before the completion of the album, however was noted to have been proud, and listened to the self titled album ‘Vieux Farka Touré’ whilst waiting peacefully to pass. Vieux also decided to continue his fathers charitable legacy by donating 10% of all proceeds from his debut to the Modiba’s “Fight Malaria” campaign in Niafunké. 

Vieux has since has a lustrous career touring and playing all manor of festivals and releasing over 5 studio albums, and plenty of live renditions as well as opening the FIFA World Cup in South African in 2010 as well as many other honourable appearances and collaborations.

It is on this Saturday night in lovely South London however, that in an intimate 200 capacity venue, Vieux Farka Touré has travelled from Mali to play his first ever solo show. Having never played without fellow musicians, Vieux reflected on stage:

“I remember when I was in school, very young, and my father comes to get me out of school and says ‘you are coming with me, do you want to come with me to play around the world” to which I replied… of course” Vieux spoke with a clear conviction, drawing the entire audience into his stories and pauses at comically pleasing moments, creating a reaction of laughs. He smiles cheekily and continues, enjoying the rapport. 

“When we got to the stage, we look out at 500 people, and he says ‘Ok, you go on stage now. Play three songs and you open for me’”

Vieux jokes about how nervous he was, and how his three songs must have lasted 4 minutes in total.. 

“My point is, is that that was my first time I played in front of people, and here I am about to play for the first time by self, here in London, or ever. Thank you for being a part of this”. 

From this introduction, the evening was set to be something special. Another way in which the energy of the evening was mapped out by our host, is in his unusual request the audience sit on the floor. 

Nells Jazz & Blues is a intimate venue, with a small but special 200 capacity, a slight raised level from the entrance and with the bar and some seating tables on the outskirts and with a small standing pit hugging around the stage. Vieux’s request we sit on the floor came as the audience, whilst waiting, were perched on the floor. Upon standing for Vieux’s appearance on stage, he quickly suggested we all sat again so that the entire audience would have a chance at a descent view and in order for “everyone to feel like we are at home together”. This was met with rounds of applause and support, and thus, the entire audience found a seat on the floor, ensuring a sacred view for all. 

The stage at Nells is set for serious music. With home made signs everywhere saying “shhhhhhh when the music is playing” and with no fancy back drops, no crazy light show, very little, if not anything to distract from the artist and their music. This set up must be regular for the venue as it is held in very high respect, thus is known for attracting a serious music lovers demographic. Not a venue to go and listen to background music, nor a venue to go and chat throughout. This in mind, as Vieux started to play, the audience obeyed and sat in near silence whilst the distinct saharan blues guitar sounds resonated throughout the small intimate room.  

Vieux and his guitar. 

From 8:30pm- 10:30pm we were treated to beautiful original compositions, songs for his wife, songs of travelling, but also dedications and odes to his father Ali Farka Touré. Vieux played the his electric acoustic guitar in the ways that are distinctive to the legacy of him and his father. The sounds of playing kora pieces on a 6 string guitar, such as playing the bass consistently throughout with the thumb on the bass strings, and thus adding the cyclical melodic variants on the higher three strings. Playing in slight variations of the pentatonic scale lends the blues to the tonality. 

He told us that all of his family where here at the gig to hear him play his first solo gig, perhaps they could be noticed as one of those unable to stop dancing and smiling for one single beat throughout the show. 

What struck me was the crips sound of Vieux’s guitar. With such clear character, almost metallic, perhaps likening to the West African tradition of adding a ‘buzz’ aesthetic to their instruments, the effect definitely lends favour to the long instrumental pulsating guitar lines. All while singing in his deep, almost husky voice with lyrics in his native tongue.

Whilst Vieux’s easy flowing chat and laughters made for an easy and pleasant ride between songs, he also light heartedly brought up the issue of visas, and how increasingly difficult it is for Malian (and world wide) musicians to attain these days, thus threatening performances.

“In the old days, my father would say… Here you come with me, and he ring would up his friends say “me and my son need passports” and within ten minutes they come over with a passport and visas for me and my father *laughter*…. But now…It is so hard, this is a BIG ISSUE”. 

Vieux also shared some personal stories about how he started to become a musician. Telling of how originally his father didn’t like the idea due to the struggles he had faced, however later agreed and enrolled him in music school. It was here that originally Vieux started to learn the calabash before moving onto kora, then guitar. He told us how his grandfather had always encouraged him musically and had once brought him “a very big hat… and a very big calabash”. At this moment I look at the navy blue porkpie hat sat cool-y on the neck of his Fender electric guitar and I wonder if this hat was similar to the one his grandfather gave him. 

Vieux played and smiled and laughed with the audience for over two hours. Nothing but a man, his voice and the unbelievable guitar playing of the ‘Farka Tourés. As the last song started Vieux decided that everyone could stand up for the final tune in order to dance together, happily the audience obliged. 

I thoroughly loved the concert, for me it felt like a vey special evening. An opportunity to see live an original performance that might never be replicated, and musically and historically, such an important and imperative figure in the changing face of African music. Such innovative and noticeable guitar playing that his father pioneered, to see Vieux Farka Touré play his repertoire so soulfully was an honour. Furthermore the venue: Nells Jazz & Blues is a wonderful venue to host such superior and important music. 

Vieux Farka Touré @ Nells Jazz & Blues   15.01.18   Photo: Sophie Darling 

Vieux Farka Touré @ Nells Jazz & Blues 

15.01.18 

Photo: Sophie Darling 

Farai and the Forest Dawn and the Kihaya Blues

Rich Mix (Brick Lane) 

25.03.17 

 

I arrived at the Rich Mix around 9pm and was happy to see that the supporting act ‘Kihaya Blues’ were still yet to play. Given that it is a Saturday night, I think the whole evening had been shuffled to later set times to ensure more people arriving. 

    I and never seen the headlining band, but had heard fantastic things about their energy and so was rather looking forward to it. When I arrived, the audience was looking somewhat thin, I think for this reason, the venue decided to put out a few tables and chair in the standing area. This certainly helped immensely, as the previously dreary looking audience suddenly looked far thicker, and sure enough lured many more people through the doors, till eventually those sat in the chairs no longer had the best views in the house. 

    I had had the pleasure of meeting the main man from the support act Kihaya Blues; Kiyazi Lugangira earlier in the week on Dj Ritu’s ‘A World In London’ radio show at Resonance FM. On the show Kayazi had spoken to us about the influences of his music, and played us a few tracks. I knew from the show that Kiyazi was from Tanzania, and the title of his band ‘Kihaya Blues’, was infact the name of his Swahilian mother tongue language he was singing and writing his songs in; Kihaya. He told us how his mother had said that he sounded more beautiful singing in this language; I’d have to say I probably agree as it has more beauty than perhaps the English language. Kiyazi was joined on stage by his band which included the fairly western set up of, bass drums, acoustic guitar however with an added Djembe bringing in those more African rhythms. The band although singing Kiyazis Tanzanian songs, are London based playing a variety of genres from latin to Brazilian and High Life. Kiyazi said him and his band are ‘soldiers of peace’. Each song the band played was happy, upbeat, Kiyazi has a beautiful husk to his soulful voice. Kiyazi said that he listened to lots of his parents 70’s soul vinyl growing up and has transferred that love and passion into singing and writing African Soul. The band played perfectly together, as Kiyazi was the perfect front man, talking laughing and interacting withthe audience. He encouraged dancing and clapping and certainly warmed the audience up for the main act. Kiyazi introduced a song that (translated) means ‘Teacher’ to which he said; 

   “You are my teacher and I am the student”, he then continued to play with sass and soul, keeping a groove going throughout the room and throughout the audience. 

   It seems to me that the Kiyaha Blues mixed western structures with African rhythms and melodic lines, as well as Kiyazis beautiful Kihaya singing. The whole band came off extremely cool. They played for a lengthy time as well, nearing 45 minutes, as they continued to play itseemed generally relaxed about set times, it was nice to hear a little more and little more from a beautiful band making beautiful music. 

 

When Farai and the Forest Dawn came to the stage around 10:30pm, I really wasn’t sure what to expect as they came out. All dressed in matching black and white, they looked very smart and professional. Their first song jumped straight in with a seriously funky bass line driving the song heavily forward. I couldn’t help but immediately enjoy the firey funk, and then… Farai then started to sing. I was taken back, jaw droopingly shocked by his voice. Sounding like all the soulful greats we hear mostly on old vinyl these days, he was reminiscent Marvin Gaye, James Brown and reminded me of a slightly more contemporary Aloe Blacc. With a stunning beauty to his voice, I found myself completely hooked on their music. I almost couldn’t wait for each next track. Varying his vocal talents from high pitched trills, to reaching lower octaves that I rarely hear in concert. More so than that, Farai also stunned at his rapping skills. Versatile indeed with these shockingly fabulous vocals. 

    The band behind Farai were certainly worthy of such a colourful front man. Farai gave all the band leader credit to the female bassist. Who seemingly blushing waved his attention away. When they started the rest of their set, it became apparent very quickly the immense skills Farai and the Forest Dawn have at demanding the audiences attention has. Stirring up almost completely with each new track, new variety of singing, new pitches I hadn’t heard sung live. All in all I found Farai’s performance quite literally- immense. I found myself unable to stop ‘skanking’ in some songs and in others moved near to tears with emotion. It felt as though this venue could easily be a packed stadium, with the the Forest Dawn nailing the exact recipe for commercial success as well as niche world music success. 

   I remember when I first started to play gigs a promoter told me that I must play every single gig as though it’s a sold out O2 arena. I had failed you see to sustain enthusiasm to the one solo person who had attended my gig that night. I found myself thinking what a shame it was for Farai and the Forest Dawn that the concertwas on a busy Saturday night and wasn’t absolutely ram packed, however in saying that. Farai and the Forest Dawn most certainly played with an almighty gusto, and consequently made me feel as if it were the sold out O2. I felt moved and a little honoured to be there that evening, and left feeling that I had seen perhaps something very special. Perhaps something that wouldn’t be seen so soon again in venue of such modest capacity. Farai said of his songs 

   “You must let them relate to you, as you feel it”. 

I rather liked this statement, as apposed to telling us the story behind his lyrics to make it more accessible, asking the audience to make it accessible to them in their own way gave an more unique experience to each person there. 

   The audience had very few students, mainly an older generations, this gave me the the impression that perhaps Farai was a well kept secret; that only a few knew about. I noticed in the audience a few people from other World music bands from around town, again adding to the elite feeling of being in that audience that Saturday night. 

   I left the Rich Mix that evening, impressed and somewhat stunned. Farai and the Forest Dawn certainly have a fan in me. I’ll be eagerly awaiting seeing them in concert again with my fingers crossed its sooner rather than later. 

Farai

Songhoy Blues

23.03.17

Omeara (London Bridge)

As soon as I received notification that Songhoy Blues were playing in town, I knew it was an evening I had to attend. I hadn’t listened extensively to the bands repertoire (e.i Album by Album), however had been absolutely attached through a few key songs. These desert punk and blues songs I believe are attractive to everyone who enjoys a taste of the worldlier music. I found that my ‘punk-loving’ Godfather was even envious of my ticket, so it seems that Songhoy have managed tospread their net far and wide, catching the interest of a huge demographic.

    The band released their debut album ‘Music in Exile’ via Transgressive Records label in onlyFebruary 2015. In that very short two years, the band have managed to secure global acclaim and have highlighted themselves an explosive band dominating the ‘desert blues’ genre. 

    It was for this reason that the venue came as a little surprise as it’s not the largest (by far) of venues. It seemed that the evening was set to be an intimate performance as apposed to the larger capacity space I’m sure they could pull off. 

   The Omega is a fantastic little venue, with an incredibly exciting buzz. With a wonderful, if slightly confusing lay out, you can get lost in the little mysterious stairways that lead to upstairs bars, that themselves hang over a dance floor bellow. With twists and turns here and there you’ll be forever discovering small places to enjoy a beer, have a chat or get a bite to eat. Some may not even notice that beside their eating and drinking; there is a modest venue playing live music. 

    Upon arrival I was treated by extremely polite staff who directed me to the venue and gave us the obligatory stamp on the wrist and in we went. 

   Set in a all-brick arch, with a theatre-esc stage, the space is wonderful for live music, with the sound bouncing of the arched ceilings it created a small and intimate space for the audience. Given it’s size and sound quality it seemed nearly impossible to get a ‘bad’ standing space for the performance. The space of the whole building, and especially the stage area is a marvellous feat of old and new, the art with the classic architecture and innovation. It feels as though you are standing in an old underground with the best speakers and music tech surrounding you. The stage reminds me of an old pop-up book I had when I was younger, at one level we have the room and audience, then the stage pops up, then the performers pop up one behind, then finally a wall block of myst and lights to really set each layer apart. 

   Songhoy Blues came out on the stage and jumped immediately into their up-beat fast paced song; Soubour. The guitars really had an amazing sound, with the two lead guitarist playing on classic Gibson Les Pauls; their crisp sound resonated through the tiny arched space engulfing the whole room. The energy never failed to fall as they jumped straight into their next track, the extremely recogniseable Al Hassidi Terei. 

 It soon came to fruition however, that this amazing space was somewhat ‘un-drummer friendly’, seen as I came to realise that all I could see of the drummer was the occasional drum stick poking through the mist. Something the venue needs to work on, however it really must be said that the overall effect of having the stage tucked inside this unique space really is fantastic, with the lights shining through a thick layer of dry ice, made for such dramatic visuals it was actually very nearly besotting.

   The performance that Songhoy Blues then proceeded to play, was undeniably amazing. The audience; varied in every way absolutely loving every second were in the palm of their hand, with applauses filling the room mid song and nearing the end of every song too. Not once did a single foot stop tapping away to the extremely tight professional tunes. It felt as though I had never listened to another artists whilst in the concert as they took over all the senses completely and had my body and mind completely attached to their every note. 

    It was stunning the ferocity of each track, one after another it seemed they were a well established band at the end of their story playing nothing but ‘one hit wonders’. On the contrary however the Garba Touré Aliou Touré (lead singer) said to the audience;

   “This is an intimate gig, a family gig if you will… If you want to see us again, we will be headlining Somerset House on the 16th of July”

If this performance was only an intimate family version of their ‘headlining’ set, then we’d all be fools not to be there when they really go for it. 

   Their songs also carried messages that rung somewhat bitterly true for at least I’m sure all the British citizens in the room. Given that our wonderful Prime Minster had promised to start the proceedings for leaving the EU (a.k.a Brexit) it is known that this will hold complications for everyone travelling to and from the UK. So when the band made the shocking statement the the gentleman playing bass for them had only practiced a total of two hours with the band as he is not the original bass player. The reason being that their bassist had found himself refused entree into the UK, it seemed a shared sigh and a communal ‘shaking of the head’ swept the audience. I found myself wondering how many other wonderful musicians we are going to be deprived off in the future. The band expressed their feelings about this happening, and told us how it is not something new to them. They spoke of the many injustices caused by their ethnicity and skin color and then introduced a song they had written about it. The song was entitled ‘One Color’ which received a roaring applause, as one of the more well known tracks from the band, it was amazing to be apart of the story telling behind the writing. 

  “Our Ethnicity, Our skin color, Our origin - It doesn’t matter. Music is mutual, Music is different, Music is everyday” - inspiring words from Songhoy that certainly helped to build a feeling of solidarity among the audience. 

   I could have been at this Songhoy Blues concert with my best friends, having a crazy time or with my Godfather or with family, with anyone basically. I believe that their feel-good, afro funk vibes would have encapsulated any member of any audience. I came away from the gig, smiling ear to ear, a newly dedicated fan to the band; eager to get home and buy all their albums. 

   If you get the chance to see them live, it seems to me an absolute must, as their energy and happiness is highly infectious.

Tinariwen

9.3.17

Electric Brixton

 

I had been lucky enough to see Tinariwen last year at Islington Assembly Hall, and have ever since known I would see them at every possible opportunity. All Tinariwens albums seemed to have captured the ears of nearly the whole world (be it 22 years after the original formation of the band), taking huge critical acclaim, the last two albums have been listed in Songlines Magazines top albums of 2016 AND 2017 (so far), as well as their ‘Top 25 Mali Albums’. It is no surprise that both the bands dates in London sold out way before the actual concerts. Last year Tinariwen played 42 gigs over the space of nine months, and have come back this year with an immense tour of 48 gigs strong, in the space of just three months. It certainly seems that this was the hot ticket in town to have. 

   I arrived at the fabulous Electric Brixton half way through the opening act ‘Dengue Fever’ who were serving up delightful, danceable tracks reminding me some what of psychedelic folk music. Although they were a great act, they finished their set with very little drama, and made way for the main performance. I just managed to get a good standing space before the crowd thickened to the point of that ‘sardine’ like audience we all know too well. The lights set on the stage were actually rather beautiful, with light yellows, oranges and reds, combined with blue hues, the scene was set for a Saharan adventure. 

   I had done a little reading on Tinariwen before this concert in order to understand further their backgrounds and origins, normally I wouldn’t go in to such depth with the background of a band, however once I had opened pandoras box, it seemed prudent to re-tell at least the highlights of the colourful background that seems so ‘worlds away’ and alien to ironically the majority of Tinariwens listeners. So forgive me, but I shall now indulge into a little background of the band in order to better understand the importance of their performance.

   Known by many as the ‘godfathers’ of ‘Sub-saharan Blues’, the members hail from the Sahara Desert in Northern Mali, however have all lived in various other places, due to being repeatedly displaced. They are known as the ‘rock’n’roll rebels’ or ‘the true rebels’ having been forced to live in exile and live life as a refugees. The members of Tinariwen are all Tuareg people. The Tuareg people live primarily in the Saharan desert stretching over all North Africa, they are also from a Berber community. The backgrounds to these musicians, unfortunately see’s atrocious acts of war and violence. 

  The leader of the band Ibrahim Ag Alhabib formed Tinariwen back in 1979, and has since come so far with the music that most familiarises ‘Desert-Blues’ to western ears. Ag Alhabib is said to have made his first guitar from merely a tin can, a stick and a bicycle brake wire; as all good rock’n’roll blues tales do.  Ag Alhabib then met Alhassane Ag Touhami and brothers Inteyeden Ag Ablil and Liya Ag Ablil in the late 1970’s. They together explored ‘protest’ musics and ‘rebel’ musics against uprisings, they were here known as ‘The Desert Boys’ or ‘Kel Tinariwen’. From there, they then completed the line-up, by meeting Keddou Ag Ossade, Mohammed Ag Itlale, Sweiloum, Abouhadid, and Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni at a nine-month army training enlistment.

   Tinariwen then built a makeshift studio, and vowed to record music for free, to anyone who could supply them with blank cassette tapes. For the next twenty years, the resulting tapes were traded widely throughout the Sahara region, using the trading routes that the Bermer Tuareg people have been using for centuries. They since have been recording tracks that bring to light the issues and the political injustices brought to the Tuareg people, thus making them ‘rebel musicians’ in the eyes of the oppressor. Furthermore, in 1990, the Tuareg people rose up in revolt against the Malian government, and consequently members of Tinariwen were enlisted and fought as rebels against the oppressive regime. 

   Sadly the story doesn’t lighten from there, although adorning global success, after their fifth album ‘Tassili’ won Best World Music Album at the Grammy Awards in 2012, the band were displaced once again from their home region of Northern Mali, and furthermore, their guitarist Abdallah ag Lamida was actually abducted by Islamist militants. The extremities that this band have had to fight constantly against in order to continue playing their music is in a very real sense dangerous for them. It is for this reason, among others, that their music can be described as a ‘revolutionary language’. 

    This discomfort is so far fetched to the western listener, whilst Tinariwen have been playing their version of the guitar led ‘Assouf’ music of their people, their songs that have been endangering their lives in order to raise awareness of inhuman treatments. Unable to understand the lyrics, for many of us, Tinariwen is simply an introduction to desert blues music, but beneath is so very much more.

   This is why, as I stood there waiting for Tinariwen to join the stage, I became overwhelmed with a grateful feeling, that I get to see these physical and political warriors perform their brave, innovative music live, in the flesh.  

   Not only have their albums brought an entire genre of music into the lime-light, they have been received with such popularity, it’s as though they have created a whole new sound that we can just not get enough off. 

 

As they took to the stage, they opened with a mellow, tone-setting tune, after which joining and completing the line-up, came Ibrahim Ag Alhabib. A raucous applause swept through the venue, a far longer applause than average, and continued into their set. They from there played nearly (as far as I could tell) all the songs from their latest two albums, keeping the tone and energy flowing from song to song. 

    Visually the band looked amazing, in their traditional cloths of the Tuareg people, with the lights reflecting that desert aesthetic, one could almost feel transported to the funky mellow vibes of the desert. Each member of the band had a chance to show off their individual skills, each taking a turn to lead guitar and vocals. The overall sound I found also had been mixed to a quieter level than usual for such a venue. I wondered if this was a thoughtful move from the band; as the result was a smoothing wave of constant music. 

   They seamlessly played for two hours working each track perfectly with one another, keeping an absolute consistent groove throughout. Their energy was infectious, consequently an accompanying rhythmic ‘clap’ could be heard from the audience for near on the whole gig. Also I noticed many people attempting to dance as the Tinariwen members dances. For a thicker description on the dancing, I would suggest watching some live footage of the band, perhaps from their appearance at ‘Womad’ Festival (2015). 

    Overall, the energy, the visuals and most importantly the deep, crisp perfected sound of their music made for an unforgettable performance. I left the venue feeling humbled, and ecstatic at the evening I felt honoured to have been apart off. 

    All Tinariwen music can be found on all platforms, and remaining tour dates can be found on their website. Don’t hesitate to snap a ticket up if you get the chance!