He’s never short of ideas. Vieux Farka Touré comes back under the spotlight with a surprising yet ingenious collaboration. He has teamed up with the versatile Israeli pianist Idan Raichel, and together they have formed the Touré-Raichel Collective. It’s another step in the rising career of the Malian virtuoso.
Intercontinental collaborations have abounded in the recent years. Tinariwen, Toumani Diabaté or Angélique Kidjo, to name but a few, have proved it. It’s now Vieux Farka Touré’s turn to take the plunge. A fortunate encounter in a German airport in 2008 led two years later to a reunion in an Israeli studio, and The Tel Aviv Session was born.
The title of the album is far from innocent, as this is a jam session, and not a carefully thought through project. Vieux and Idan have produced an hour of improvisation and exchange, where music becomes a clear vector for dialogue, turning speech into a superfluous accessory.
But joining elements of different kinds and origins is no simple matter. On the contrary, it’s a subtle and delicate effort that takes great musical mastery and an absolute connection between protagonists – a task the two musicians excel at from beginning to end.
Typical sonorities from the home region of Vieux Farka Touré, nearby Timbuktu in North Mali, unsurprisingly appear in several titles. They are borne away by the light rhythms of calabash and the profound voice of the Malian singer (Azawade, Bamba).
As for Idan Raichel, he is no stranger to the practice of blending genres. He showcases his not-so-common piano style, playing melodies reminiscent of Eastern Europe or the Near East (Alkataou). Throughout this session, the kora, a Western African lute, has inspired him in the way he plays the piano. He plucks the strings like he would on a harp, or beats them like a drum (Experience). He thus explores all the possibilities offered by the instrument and takes Vieux’s usual sound to a whole new dimension.
But that’s not all. Idan Raichel invites a few of his regular partners, such as Cabra Casey, whose angelic singing in the Ethiopian language of Tigrit adds a touch of femininity to the album (Ane Nahatka). The final title Alem introduces Mark Eliyahu and his kamacheh, an Iranian cousin of the violin, and successfully concludes this seamless world tour.
Here’s a piece of raw and unpolished music that comes from the heart. It also lays bare the talents of these musicians who are definitely made for each others. This inventive musical gem surprises at first but eventually leaves an indelible mark on the listener.
UPDATE: in spite of his message of peace and understanding other cultures, I’ve recently found out Idan Raichel is also a supporter of the Israeli army – a bit of a contradiction for a so-called defender of world peace.
Read also: Interview with Vieux Farka Touré and Idan Raichel
An edited version of this article has been published in French in Touki Montréal