Ali Farka Toure's Son Carries Musical Torch

The great African guitarist Ali Farka Toure discouraged his children from following him into the music business. But one of his sons secretly learned to play the guitar anyway. Now Vieux Farka Toure has released his first album.

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DAVID WAS: The death of Malian guitar master Ali Farka Toure last year was a great loss for fans of his blues-drenched sound.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

It's musician and DAY TO DAY contributor David Was.

WAS: Toure's talents were showcased in America mostly through the efforts of his musical midwife, Ry Cooder, who recorded an album with him in 1994. But almost a year to the day of his passing, his guitar-wielding son, Vieux Farka Toure, has released his first collection of songs as a bandleader.

That's rather a miracle when you consider that his illustrious father discouraged him from such a career at every turn.

(Soundbite of music from album "Vieux Farka Toure")

Mr. VIEUX FARKA TOURE: (Singing) (Speaking foreign language).

WAS: It was the elder Toure's bitter experience with ruthless concert promoters and label owners that he was trying to protect his son from. He recommended that Vieux, one of his 11 children, take up a reliable pursuant like joining the military, where at least he could expect a regular payday. Instead, the young man secretly practiced guitar along with his father's records and only received his father's blessing as the old man lay dying of cancer in the final year of his life.

(Soundbite of music from album "Vieux Farka Toure")

WAS: While the 25-year-old might not yet have his father's expressive gifts on the guitar, he does have a similar knack for fusing his roots with Western influences, ranging from reggae to rock.

(Soundbite of music from album "Vieux Farka Toure")

WAS: His father was often referred to as the African John Lee Hooker, though he insisted his music was derived from the sounds of his native Northern Mali.

(Soundbite of music from album "Vieux Farka Toure")

Mr. VIEUX FARKA TOURE: (Singing) (Speaking foreign language).

WAS: What both players share is a sure-footed knack for playing complex rhythms like it's a second nature and a string-bending, yearning sound that is as much Mississippi delta as it is Sahara Desert.

(Soundbite of music from album "Vieux Farka Toure")

Mr. VIEUX FARKA TOURE: (Singing) (Speaking foreign language).

WAS: Speaking of nature, the emergence of the son in his father's chosen profession again begs the question of whether musical talent is a heritable trait, as transmissible as eye color or height. The votes are never all in when it comes to these thorny questions, but recent research indicates that it's those musicians who practice the most who have the most-accomplished careers. One observer calculated that it takes 10 years and some 10,000 hours of practice to ascend to what is referred to as the expert mind. Perspiration again trumps inspiration, or even DNA.

(Soundbite of music from album "Vieux Farka Toure")

WAS: That Vieux Farka Toure kept up the guitar instead of taking up the AK-47 was a gutsy move for a young man. And by the end of his life, Ali Farka Toure began to support his son's artistic efforts and schooled the lad not so much musically as in the types of exploitation he'd suffered in France as a recording and touring musician.

Between his heritage and his dad's sage counsel, the family legacy is in able hands and fingers.

(Soundbite of music from album "Vieux Farka Toure")

Mr. VIEUX FARKA TOURE: (Singing) (Speaking foreign language).

BRAND: Music from the debut album by Vieux Farka Toure. Our reviewer, David Was, is half of the musical duo Was Not Was.

DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News with contributions from Slate.com. Alex Chadwick is with you on Monday. I'm Madeleine Brand.

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