Vieux Farka Toure is a second-generation guitar luminary who has made a career successfully merging Africa and the diaspora.
When he appeared at the Annenberg Center's Prince Theatre for the first of two sets Friday night, he showed the world he is not blending the music of his native Mali with that of other places.
With an array of songs that ranged from African chamber music to Maghreb-Andaluz romps to slashing, incisive blues to joyous, rocking dance tunes, the guitarist showed the world that it's all been in Africa since the beginning.
There was no need for lots of musicians on this gig; two percussionists and two guys with stringed instruments were all that was needed. Percussionists Tim Keiper on drum set and shakers and Souleymane Kane on calabash and djembe worked the middle of the field, with Keiper's propulsive work and Kane's gorgeous pops and clicks making Toure smile. And Malian bassist Mamadou Sidibe (Toure has bassists like Kardashians have husbands) was perfect for this ensemble; as in much African music, his nimble, active runs were more than just a foundation. They were, indeed, an equal partner in the conversation.
Though he'll never be mistaken for a great voice, Toure has a light baritone that is soaring and expressive, with a plaintive beauty. Throughout the hourlong set, the musicians, battling difficulties with the sound mix (for the first three songs, Toure said the band members couldn't hear one another), took different approaches to their craft. Songs such as "Ali" were quiet and thoughtful, with Toure's sweet melodic picking moving around the rhythmic structure.
Toure was masterful on both electric and acoustic guitar, but the sound and ambience he evoked on each differed.
His solo playing on the blues "Lakkal" was incendiary. On"Azawade Nama," the penultimate song of the evening, the drummers put down hyperactive polyrhythms, and Kane and Toure wove interlocking, danceable circles, moving in and around each other. Then the two, Kane taking the lead, decided to do the same thing on the dance floor, syncing their moves like they were playing classic soul.