Ali Farka Touré was part of a guerrilla army of artists waiting to invade the States and Europe in the 1980s. All they needed was an opening. And when the ethnomusicologists' term "world music" was appropriated by the music marketers and promoters, the Malian guitarist and his cohort got their opening.
Sure, foreign music genres and foreigners themselves have always been sneaking to American shores: Cha-chas, sambas, calypsos, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and finally Bob Marley & the Wailers and the reggae legions that followed. But the "world music" era heralded a major change and a lasting one, introducing new artists, building new audiences and creating new institutions, not the least of which, hereabouts, is Detroit's Concert of Colors, now in its 16th year.
Already established as "the John Lee Hooker of Africa," Ali Farka Touré found a new level of success in his 40s, touring worldwide, releasing discs regularly, scooping up a Grammy and other awards, hearing his music on movie soundtracks. And three years after his passing at age 66, his son, Vieux Farka Touré, not yet 30, seems poised for even greater success.
Ali Farka Touré's guitar work bridged Africa and the blues, echoing the cascading notes of African harps and the "worried" notes of the bluesman. Vieux has that going on in his music, no doubt, but there's an aggressive element — there may be less intimacy in his music, but he has an affinity for bold lines that play to large audiences, amping up the same otherworldly tone his father used.
And while both father and son have worked with Ry Cooder, for example, Vieux's collaborators have also included the likes of the James Brown horn section, with Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker. Likewise, Vieux's first disc was repurposed for the dancefloor as Vieux Farka Touré Remixed: UFOs Over Bamako.
If Vieux Farka Touré is the biggest international star at this year's Concert of Colors, he's hardly the only act reflecting the sea changes of the world music era. There are not-to-be-missed world flavors and mash-ups from Detroit-area bands and from elsewhere in this country and Canada.
Orquesta La Inspiracion, led by percussionist (and former Latin music radio host) Ozzie Rivera have long been keepers of the flame here, bringing together top-notch Latin and jazz players. Roots Vibration, founded by lead singer Winfred Julien of Dominica, West Indies, has been mixing up the evolving the sounds of the Caribbean — from reggae to zouk — for two decades now. His genre has been described as Arabic folk blues, with titles such as "Traveling While Arab Blues."
Drawing from numerous musical influences spanning from folk, rock, blues to psychedlic and world, the Detroit based band "Mazaj" (mood) mixes lyrics of oppression, social injustice, war and peace with haunting melodies and progressice beats.
Galitcha, out of Ottawa, takes a variety of East Indian folk styles and adds instruments like saxophone and Appalachian dulcimer for a new blend. One clue to where they're coming from: the world music titan Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan inspired Galitcha's leader Kujlit Sodhi to pursue music full time and became a jamming partner.
Grupo Fantasma are notable salsa-cumbia-psychedelia up-and-comers from Austin, Texas. Not quite a decade in the game now, these genre-benders got a boost from Prince a while back when he made them regulars at his Vegas club, taking them on tour and borrowing their horn section for high-profile gigs. Along with a Grammy nod, that's plenty to make them, in the words of rock scribe Gilbert Garcia, "the most famous obscure band on the planet."
W. Kim Heron is editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
Vieux Farka Touré performs at 8 p.m. Sunday at the Meijer Main Stage.