Vieux Farka Touré – Belgrave Music Hall & Canteen, Leeds

Kiss Diouara

A crowd embark upon Belgrave Music Hall & Canteen on the 16th May in preparation to witness one of the brightest of stars to emerge from Mali, Vieux Farka Touré.

Vieux Farka Touré has firmly cemented his name and star power alongside his esteemed father; one of the great legends of Malian music Ali Farka Touré. Vieux Farka Toure oscillates artfully between Malian Folk and Desert Blues; which first made the Farka Touré name legend, and traditional Songhai music. Vieux Farka Toure’s fresh contemporary approach to Desert Blues combing psychedelic landscapes and dub has artfully pushed the boundaries of the genre further than ever.

With six solo albums under his belt, including the 2022 dual-release of ‘Ali’ in collaboration with Khraungbin, and Les Racines. Farka Toure exhibits his natural virtuosity as his fingers dance around the fretboard like fireflies while he sings warm, longing meditative melodies that created a pinnacle moment of hypnotic synergy between Songhai music and Neo-Psychedelia. A mature, traditionalist’s record said to be “outstanding” by The Guardian.

Supporting Vieux Farka Toure tonight is Leeds septet Awen Ensemble. I was excited to see Awen Ensemble after recently discovering their debut album ‘Cadair Idris’ released on New Soil Records in April. In the first two songs of the set, their unique decipher of jazz is exemplified and organic compositions are crafted and weaved through the venue introducing a sonic escapade into the world of Cadair Idris (a mountain in the Meirionnydd area of Gwynedd, Wales).

‘Cadair Idris’ is about a woman who seeks personal growth through a spiritual journey across the vast vicinity of the Welsh mountain overnight. The album invites you along to delve deeper into yourself and seek your own reckoning through the freeing essence of modal tradition, spiritual jazz, and folk music found across the globe.

As guitarist Ruari Graham’s stylish shimmers open the floor for trumpet player Emyr Penry Dance, and tenor saxophonist Saul Duff to unveil the uneven deserted landscape high above Gwynedd. Distinctive and unexpected bops of upright bassist Joe Wilkes, and drummer Eddie Bowes root the foundations and intertwine into each other to create the perfect balance of introspective ambience and upbeat rhythms that fluctuate, inspiring you to keep searching further within yourself. Awen, meaning ‘poetic inspiration’ in Welsh, outlines the intention of their music to explore folkloric heritage, landscape and the human mind, inspiring audiences to reflect on and connect with these subjects. Awen Ensemble create compositions that are melodically focused with distinctive grooves that feature spoken word, shimmering instrumentations and a unique Celtic mystique. Listen / Buy ‘Cadair Idris’ here:

Vieux Farka Toure armed with an acoustic guitar walks onto the stage accompanied by Ousmane Dagno on Ngoni, calabash and percussionist Adama Kone and bassist Marshall Henry. Farka Toure dressed in an elegant silver tunic introduces the sun-lit Malian desert rock rhythms to open the set. Within minutes the room had exploded into an array of colour and unity as the hip-swinging audience possessed the sort of groove you never wanted to end. Farka Toure beaming with happiness smiles at his band members and towards the audience encapsulating Belgrave with a euphoric sense of freedom. All your worries and troubles that have plagued your mind have suddenly vanished into thin air.

At no one point did I see Farka Toure playing a standard chord or just ringing out some notes, he effortlessly glides around the fretboard at a pace that makes Eric Clapton or Van Halen look like amateurs. Not only does he command both his voice and the rapid guitar expressions, he simultaneously orchestrates the rest of the band into exuberant jam sections that showcase the unison of friendship between the members. As the freeform grooves deepen, the band members laugh and dance in bliss, the energy is transmitted into the audience, as Belgrave is turned into a dancehall where all ages and backgrounds intertwine with one another freeing themselves and reminding each other that we are all one.

As the set progresses, Farka Toure switches the acoustic for an electric guitar and doesn’t look to slow down the flow. With little or no effects at all, Farka Toure’s decisive guitar work, entangled with Ousmane Dagno’s ngoni and Adama Kone percussion takes you on a journey through the spacious compositions where you lose yourself and find it almost impossible not to dance. Watching Farka Toure and his band is completely captivating, the sheer amount of fun they are having, the collaborative input from each member and the ego-less love that is transmitted into your soul is unforgettable. Farka Toure is not only a genuine master of the fretboard, but he is a master of unity.

After a handful of slower-paced songs, the set draws to an end and bassist Marshall Henry explains that they are selling homemade bangles and keyrings to raise money for Farka Toure’s charity Amahrec Sahel in 2012. Farka Toure founded Amahrec Sahel in 2012 with a mission to support humanitarian reconstruction and culture, the charity has provided school supplies for children, supported an orphanage in Bamako and provided musical instruments for young musicians in Mali.

Being in the presence of Africa’s finest musician for an hour and half not only lightened my soul, but it truly. inspired me. I bought a copy of ‘Ali’ to keep in my car as a memory of tonight’s performance, but also to remember that no matter how much stress or troubles may suffocate my life, I can listen to Vieux Farka Toure and allow it all to ooze away. I honestly can’t remember the last time I came out of a gig feeling so happy, fulfilled and ecstatic to be alive.

Listen to ‘Ali’:

Earth Cruises: