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Ali is a mesmerising union between Vieux Farka Touré and Khruangbin

Release date: 23 September 2022
8/10
Khruangbin & Vieux Farka Touré - Ali cover
21 September 2022, 00:00 Written by Janne Oinonen
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At first, it is hard to see any discernible connection between the elemental ethos of Ali Farka Touré (the late Malian desert blues legend whose contemplative, spartan sound made the one-chord boogie stomps of nearest ‘Western’ equivalent John Lee Hooker seem positively florid) and Khruangbin, a trio from Texas whose laidback, luxuriously upholstered blend of slow-burn soul/funk and soft-focus psychedelia seems tailor-made to soundtrack the plushest of parties.

The enticingly unhurried, loose-limbed grooves of Ali soon prove that Ali Farka Touré’s son Vieux Farka Touré – an accomplished musician dubbed the Hendrix of the Desert in his own right – made the right call in picking Khruangbin as a collaborator on his long-planned tribute to the mighty musical achievements of his father, who passed away in 2006 after a string of widely celebrated albums of raw and unfiltered desert blues.

Dashed out quickly with little advance planning (apparently Touré didn’t tell the band which songs would be tackled until the last minute to preserve the spark of spontaneity) on either side of the pandemic, the compelling outcomes maintain the spotlight on Touré’s fluid guitar and vocals whilst adding unmistakably Khruangbin-ised touches to Ali Farka Touré’s threadbare but deeply hypnotic songs, which have more in common with the repetitive accumulation of a mantra or a prayer than verse/chorus formats.

At its best, Ali is mesmerising: this version of “Savanne” (the melancholy title track of Ali Farka Touré’s final album) adds a drop of gently humid funk, dub accents and an organ drone to the song’s quietly graceful contemplation, with seriously beautiful results. A luxuriously layered, soul ballad reinterpretation of “Diarabi” (one of Ali Farka Touré’s signature tunes) is almost as compelling. In comparison to such slow-burn treats, the desert-funk of “Tongo Barra” – nodding towards the high octane presentation of Songhoy Blues and Mdou Moctar – positively sizzles with live-wire energy.

Ultimately, the connection between Vieux (and Ali) Farka Touré and Khruangbin becomes clear: while they separately occupy very different musical territories, there is a shared love of minimalist repetition, and a deep appreciation for the all-important spaces between the notes. Both parties benefit from the collaboration on Ali: Touré gets to paint the songs he loves with a wider palette without diluting the power of the source material, and Khruangbin’s add some welcome grit to their smooth and hazy signature sound.

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