Vieux Farka Touré’s latest album is a collaboration with rising American singer Julia Easterlin but you wouldn’t know it from tonight’s 90-minute set.
Where Touristes finds the Malian singer and guitarist experimentally bringing together Appalachian folk, western ballads and funk then here he focuses squarely on the African desert blues for which he’s built his reputation.
It’s a form that’s latterly been brought to the attention of indie fans through the likes of Songhoy Blues but he adds a twist by filtering it through modern rock. By doing so he’s created a unique sound that’s allowed him to step out of the shadow of his father, the innovator Ali Farka Touré, who initially discouraged him from becoming a musician.
This fusion of styles has earned him the oft-quoted tagline of being ‘the Hendrix of the Sahara’, with his warm voice being as fluent as his playing. Frequently relaxed and reflective, it’s nonetheless punctuated by rapid-fire flurries for which he closes his eyes, throws back his head and loses himself in the moment.
During such interludes he places his trust in his own abilities but also those of bassist Jean-Alain Hohy and drummer Jean-Paul Melindji, with whom he maintains regular eye contact. The power of this trio is evident during one of the mid-set highlights when he swaps Hendrix for the 70s British blues of Cream.
It’s around this point that the audience slowly starts to respond to his repeated exhortations to ‘move a little bit’. This is probably less to do with his pleas, each one accompanied by a swivel of the hips, but by the structure of the set list. Starting with reflective material, he gradually moves onto more joyful tracks, culminating with the crowd chanting back to the band.
In building up the set in this way he ensures that, as bassist Hohy notes, “It’s cold out there but it’s hot in here!”