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Vieux Farka Touré helped introduce Malian music to the U.S. He's back with album 6



One of the leading exports from the landlocked West African country of Mali is music - a rich, soulful and technically demanding music that's enchanted American audiences for about three decades now. And one of the artists responsible for that distinction is Vieux Farka Toure. He's out with his sixth solo album, "Les Racines," and joins us now from Bamako, Mali. Welcome to the program, Vieux.

VIEUX FARKA TOURE: Thank you so much for having me here.

BOND: And actually, I should say welcome back. You joined us on WEEKEND EDITION 10 years ago...


BOND: ...When you released a collaboration - right? - with the Israeli keyboardist Idan Raichel.


BOND: You've made music with a lot of different people over these years - with Dave Matthews, John Scofield, among others. Talk to me a little bit about what you get out of these collaborations. What's your approach?

TOURE: I think sometime it's good to do the collaboration with other musician from outside your country and outside your culture to see, OK, what kind of music do we going to have without just what are you doing all the time. It give you, like, another chance, another, like, idea from what's going on, you know?

BOND: Right, broadening how you might be playing.

TOURE: Yeah.

BOND: And, of course, it was your father, the celebrated guitarist Ali Farka Toure, who introduced many U.S. listeners to Malian music. But I wonder if you could talk a little more about how you might be influenced, you know, by American music and some of these other collaborations you've done.

TOURE: I think I want to say exactly what my father used to say. He said it's not American bluesman. It's an African bluesman living in the United States. So every morning, my father used to play, like, the John Lee Hookers and B.B. Kings and, you know, Eric Clapton, you know, this kind of music.

BOND: Sort of bringing that music back home to where it started.

TOURE: Yeah, yeah. It's like this. So the roots from this music - get it from here.

BOND: "The Roots"...

TOURE: "The Roots" - yeah...

BOND: ...Is the name of your new album.

TOURE: Yes (laughter). It's from here.

BOND: So your new album, "Les Racines," is billed as a solo record, but it does include collaborations, including Amadou Bagayoko - right? - from Amadou & Mariam. Let's listen to that track.


TOURE: (Singing in non-English language).

"Gabou Ni Tie" is - it's - I mean, you need to know where you put your feet. This is very, very important here in Mali. All the problem from Mali is coming because the people don't know where they put their feet, you know? So it's a good to tell, like, all the government, all the people from Mali, OK, hey, guys, we have to be careful what you do.

BOND: But I want to ask you - your father did not want you to follow in his footsteps as a musician. But you famously studied guitar in secret for many years. You know, you maybe - you put your feet where he didn't want you to put them.

TOURE: (Laughter).

BOND: I guess - how do you think about that?

TOURE: No, no, it's not same. It's not just going in the stage to play music, do the music - no, no, no, no. The problem is the bureaucracy of the music. You know, he don't - he never go to school. So when he was starting to doing the music, it's - he have many, many problem with the people, like management and all this stuff. They bring him in Europe to do the tour. They have, like 2,000 for his money. But they just give him 200 or 300.

BOND: And he didn't want you to repeat that.

TOURE: Exactly. But, you know, I say, OK, it's not same. You didn't go to school and what's - OK, he say, OK, now if you want to do the music, you have to finish your school. And you have to know who you go, where you go, where you put your feet.


BOND: Well, let's listen to a bit from the title track, "Les Racines."


BOND: Can you talk a bit about this desert blues style and then, when you decided to come to this style, what you brought to it? Or do you really think about playing it the way your father played it?

TOURE: Actually, when I play this music I try to go in my father's head, you know? I don't know if you understand.

BOND: In his head, in his head.

TOURE: Yeah, yeah, yeah, in his head. You know, it's a very special album because, you know, when you want to do something like Ali Farka Toure, it's tough. It's very, very tough. So it's make me nervous - you know, stress.

BOND: Yeah, no - I imagine you have it in your head. You know what you want - what he sounds like and what you want it to sound like. And then you want it to be as close to that as possible, right? You're trying to get it from your head out in the world.

TOURE: Yes, exactly. Sometime I'm sleepy - I'm go to the bed 1, 3, 2 o'clock - I'm just wake up, and I'm just going to say, OK, now I have this inspiration. Let's go.

BOND: Wow.


TOURE: All the album I make is, like - in two hours, I got to make your album, you know?

BOND: Not this one.

TOURE: No, not this one. This one is very, very special.

BOND: I think we can hear that.

TOURE: Yeah.

BOND: A number of songs on this album call for unity. Let's hear a little bit of "Ngala Kaourene."


TOURE: (Singing in non-English language).

BOND: In Mali, there's been fighting among ethnic groups for a decade. I wonder how you see music playing a role in unifying your country.

TOURE: You see, the music is not just the people like doing music and listen. We make music to educate the people because, you know, in Mali, here as much people - they don't read, they don't go to school. But when they go to the farm, they work, they listen to music.


TOURE: (Singing in non-English language).

The music here is like music for unities.

BOND: And what did you want to tell them that they have to know?

TOURE: It's just to tell the people we have to be one. We have to stop doing this war. When we sing "Ngala Kaourene," we have to be, you know - how do you say? We have to make peace together?

BOND: We have to make peace together.


BOND: Vieux Farka Toure is out with his sixth solo album, "Les Racines." Thanks so much.

TOURE: Thank you. Thank you, too.


TOURE: (Singing in non-English language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Shannon Bond is a business correspondent at NPR, covering technology and how Silicon Valley's biggest companies are transforming how we live, work and communicate.