Vieux Farka Touré follows in the footsteps of his famous father

The World
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Vieux Farka Touré

Vieux Farka Touré performs in the WGBH studios in Boston.

Sonia Narang

When Vieux Farka Touré was in his early twenties, he was approached by New York producer Eric Herman of the record label Modiba. Herman wanted Touré to record an album. But there was a problem.

Touré's father, Ali Farka Touré, was a famed Malian guitarist. He didn't want his son to be a musician. So his son never told him that he was following in his father's footsteps.

With a father of such stature, the younger Touré couldn't just sign on to make an album. According to Mali's customs, the son had to share the news with his father and get his blessing.

So Touré and producer Herman traveled to his father's ancestral home of Niafunké in northern Mali. So how did his late father react?

"[He} laughed and said, ‘Him? He can’t sing. He can’t play guitar,’” recalls Touré. So Touré pulled out his guitar and played one of the songs he wrote while a student at the Institut National des Arts in Mali’s capital, Bamako. 

His father recognized his son's talent, but advised him not to record the album quite yet. First, he wanted to pass his knowledge to his son. The elder Touré had just publicly revealed that he had cancer. 

So they began a year of master classes, just father and son. 

“In that year, he gave me the secret of the music," says the younger Touré.

“In an hour of jamming and lessons, I absorbed four hours of wisdom and ideas about playing guitar, about our traditions.” 

His father's health was starting to wane, and he died a year later.

Vieux Farka Touré admits quietly that the music lessons made for an intense final chapter for them both. "We’d play together until one in the morning,” he recalls. “I had a good time with him.”

  Editor's note: This story was updated to add additional information.

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