VIEUX FARKA TOURÉ & JULIA EASTERLIN – Touristes
aaamusic | On 25, Nov 2015
It’s not easy to grow your independence and distance yourself from your roots… It’s even worse if your roots and lineage belong the Touré family (which is related to a tradition of soldiers) and your father (Ali Farka Touré) is and arguably will be always considered as the most important figure in Malian music. But Vieux Farka Touré, after a ten-year career and despite the initial opposition of his father, has glowingly developed his own voice and Touristes, his fifth solo album, is a clear evidence of his maturity.
Written four-hands with the contribute of the American folk singer Julia Easterlin, Touristes goes beyond the Malian blues borders which are still the foundation of Vieux Farka Touré’s music. The album enjoys an original approach to folk, because it links successfully together two distant traditions like the Malian Songhoi and the American popular songwriting.
Despite Julia Easterlin’s name can possibly sound new to many world music fans; she has already built a reputation as imaginative artist thanks to her eclectic musicianship. Her skills have helped her to become an original vocalist, who uses electronic effects, looping and sampling to enrich the folky nature of her singing. She met Vieux Farka Touré little more than one year ago and their first artistic rendezvous was already the decisive one. Between the two musicians it was indeed a musical love at first sight and ‘a Gallehault was’ Bob Dylan’s “Master of War” (also included in the album). Julia introduced Vieux Farka Touré to the song during a session and, as the Malian artist revealed, “within about one or two hours we had created four songs together”. Their collaboration eventually sprout not just through the release of their record, but also thanks to the absolute empathy which the musicians exhibit during their live shows.
In fact, Touristes embodies and discloses the two souls of the project, which at the same time never try to merge. Listening to the album you can always discern the two schools and traditions and easily and inevitably spot the Malian rhythmic nature of Vieux’s guitar and more Western, contemporary and versatile vocalisations of Julia. This is also the strength of the project, which is able to preserve the artists’ independence and let them simultaneously sound close-knitted.
A glorious example of this coexistence is the single chosen by the duo to present the album and one of the first songs they wrote together. ‘Little Things’ is a delicate, emotional and offbeat pop song, which is built on the eloquence of Vieux Farlka Touré’s guitar recalling the notes of the Malian traditional tune ‘Kaira’ and kaleidoscopic Julia Easterlin’s interpretation. It can also be considered as the chapter in which the synergy between the artists is more noticeable: Julia voice moves freely and confidently on the melodic lines played by Vieux Farka.
The coexistence between Songhoi music forms and American folk is enriched in ‘Bamba Na Wili’, which seems to go back in centuries to recall the origins of Malian tradition. The composition is dedicated to the memory of Touré’s mother and thanks to the choral parts interpreted by Julia, it easily recalls Western African praise songs.
For forty minutes, Touristes shows how to harmonise two apparently distant cultures: Western African and old-times American sounds travel indeed side-by-side, expressing themselves freely, taking their own spaces and constantly supporting each other. So, if the traditional American song ‘In the Pines’ revives Appalachian feelings and ‘Took My Brother’ reflects on the trying present of the Afro-American community in the States and social unrest caused by Ferguson shooting, Vieux Farka Toure in ‘A B’ashiye” (“It’s Alright”)’ and ‘The World’ brings back the creative epicenter to Mali and his instrumental skills.
‘Apple and Oranges’ which represents the conclusive chapter of the opera, also works as a summa of the projects. If on one side, Vieux pays tribute to the slow and mellifluous blues style popularised all over the world by his father, Julia mirrors all the influences that has made her artistry unique. The result is an enchanting slow paced jazzy ballad, which is also one of the best farewells the two musicians could offer to their listeners.