The Remarkable Vieuxby Ts'eliso Monaheng / Images by pop skiet / 22.01.2013
After driving past a total of five car accidents on the highway, then getting harassed by Newtown car guards who descend upon you like minions from hell, and having to fork out half of the amount required for parking space that was unsolicited to begin with, we finally make it into the Bassline. There are claps after every song. When the venue is full, and you are late, and there are claps after every song, then there is serious reason to be pissed off.
But my self-inflicted bad mood fizzles out and crumbles in a few moments; maybe it is Boureima “Vieux” Farka Touré’s fuzzy guitar licks, maybe it is the space I have chosen to stand in – right at the back, just by the entrance. Maybe missing Bongeziwe’s set was the universe’s reversal of the phrase: “after laughter comes tears”, wherein the ‘tears’ resemble missing who I primarily came to see, while the ‘laughter’ represents the resolve as Vieux and co. brought the Afrika out of everyone in attendance with their unbelievably groovy beats.
Which is counter-intuitive since the band does not do much on stage. They are really good at playing their instruments, yes, but there is no relentless dancing a la zouk or afrobeat musicians with a troupe of back-up dancers, for instance. Nor are there any flashy backdrops or misplaced video projections, just five gentlemen on stage with a very considered and deliberately visceral approach to their craft.
I am not familiar with Vieux’s music, hence I came here with absolutely no expectations. Various descriptors have been attached to what he does, ‘Desert Blues’ being perhaps the most widely-used. But what does that mean? In an interview, he offered this explanation: “The sound of our blues is dry like the Sahara, but it’s the vast open space that shapes the desert blues. For me it will always be the music of openness.”
Tonight, Jozi experiences the full wrath of a man whose father initially wanted to enlist in the military, a man who started out as a percussionist, a being struggling to overcome the shadow cast on him by two legends: his father, Ali, and his mentor, Toumani Diabaté. Whilst Vieux’s sound still possesses hints of his father’s influence, one gets a strong sense of yearning to veer in a diametrically opposite direction, to ‘break away’ and blaze his own trail. Over the course of four studio albums (the latest is a collaboration between himself and Idan Raichel), it can arguably be said that Vieux is charting the right course.
Vieux points the mic in the audience’s direction, encourages participation whenever the song calls for it, and joins the three individuals who ascended the stage to have a jam. There are no airs about what they do; any pretence is cast aside by the pure, unrelenting energy and positivity emanating from the stage. And right at the tail-end, during the encore, the band bring Bongeziwe Mabandla on. He is awe-struck, suspended in motion and time, struggling to make sense of the space he finds himself drawn into. When his turn comes to sing, he utters a few words before his voice gets drowned out by the shouts of encouragement, by demonstrations of appreciation. Why he isn’t touring consistently is beyond me.
Tonight, the Bassline witnessed a macabre pairing: Hendrix of the Sahara, along with Mzansi’s own Bongeziwe Mabandla. One, the son of world-renowned legend from a country grappling with the perils of an insurgency; the other, a native of the Eastern Cape, part and parcel of a country grappling with its own version of an insurgency in the form of a government intent on fucking its citizens at every juncture. So after the show ended, and with the echoes of the final song threatening to engulf my thoughts (“heeey-ay-yay-yay-ya”), I posed a few questions to Vieux:
Mahala: How has the political upheaval in Mali affected the music?
Vieux Farka Touré: We have many problems with the rebellion Tuareg. But I think we are going to be better because it’s not all the Tuaregs. It’s just some bandits who cause problems. But I’m not very happy with the situation. Now all the world knows about Mali, and they try to help all people; I think it’s very good.
Do you think there is fair and unbiased reporting on the situation on the ground from big media outlets?
They are. I’m just saying they have to report [on] all the people. The media have a very big responsibility [to do] this. We have to let the people know what’s happening in Mali, what they have to do, and why they have to help the people of Mali.
How would you compare the energy here at the Bassline to the energy at a something like the Festival du Desert in Tomboctou, for instance?
When the people come to see you, you have to give them what you have. It’s very important to give all your power for the people.
So what message are you communicating through your music?
It’s union, peace, and love the most.
*All images © pop skiet.