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Often referred to as “The Hendrix of the Sahara,” Vieux Farka Touré was born in Niafunké, Mali, in 1981. He is the son of legendary Malian guitar player Ali Farka Touré, who died in 2006. Ali Farka Touré came from a historical tribe of soldiers and defied his parents in becoming a musician. When Vieux was in his teens, he declared that he also wanted to be a musician. His father disapproved due to the pressures he had experienced being a musician. Instead, he wanted Vieux to become a soldier. But with help from a family friend, kora maestro Toumani Diabaté, Vieux eventually convinced his father to give him his blessing to become a musician shortly before Ali passed.
Vieux was initially a drummer–calabash player at Mali’s Institut National des Arts, but he secretly began playing guitar in 2001. Ali Farka Touré was weakened with cancer when Vieux announced that he was going to record an album. Ali recorded a couple of tracks with him, and these recordings, which can be heard on Vieux’s debut album, were among his final ones. It has been said that the senior Touré played rough mixes of these songs when people visited him in his final days, at peace with, and proud of, his son’s talent as a musician.
In 2005, Eric Herman (Vieux’s current manager) of Modiba Productions expressed an interest in producing an album for Vieux; this led to Vieux’s self-titled debut album, released by World Village in 2007. Ali Farka Touré’s anti-malaria advocacy continues even after his death thanks to 10 percent of the album’s proceeds donated to Modiba’s Fight Malaria campaign in Niafunké, through which over three thousand mosquito nets have been delivered to children and pregnant women in the Timbuktu region of Mali. On this first album, Vieux pays homage to his father and follows Ali’s musical tradition, giving new versions of the West African music that is echoed in the American blues. The album features Toumani Diabaté, as well as his late father. One of the tracks, “Courage,” is on the soundtrack of the film The First Grader (2010).
On his second record, Fondo (2009), released by Six Degrees Records, Vieux branched out and presented his own sound. While remaining true to the roots of his father’s music, he uses elements of rock, Latin music, and other African influences. The album received much critical acclaim from across the globe, and Vieux was clearly moving out of his father’s shadow.
By June 2010, Vieux was performing at the opening concert for the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. That month, Vieux also released his first live album, LIVE. His live performances are highly energized and he is known for dazzling crowds with his speed and dexterity on the guitar, as well as his palpable charisma and luminous smile, both of which captivate audiences despite any language barriers.
Dazzlingly fluid phrasing but clearly also digs the fiery African blues rock of bands like Tinariwen.