FolkWorld #52 11/2013
© David Hintz

Amazing Array of Talent

All Star Jam Session for Mali with Vieux Farka Toure @ Liv, Washington DC - Jul 31 2013.

This event was organized by Massama Dogo of the excellent local band Elikeh. They have opened for legendary Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Toure at some of my favorite shows in years past and have become friends (and brothers). So Massama invited Vieux to DC to work on getting a Malian charity going to help that country get back to stability and reestablishing itself as the center for some of the finest music in all of the world. The show tonight featured dozens of musicians from area bands, mostly African based, that recombined into unique combos to play a few songs and allow a few guests to pop in and out. The quality was quite high as they spent some rehearsal time and had the right amount of loose jamming mixed in with tight rhythms and controlled soloing. I will loosely mention the five variations presented here to keep in the spirit of just having a great time while doing something for Mali. There were three full hours of music, where it is probably best not to put in writing the exact time the event ended, as it was too hard to stop playing with so many fine musicians to showcase. |

Group 1 featured a majority of members from Chopteeth Afrofunk Big Band, who have been gracing stages in the DC area for some time now. They were joined by members of Elikeh, Funk Ark, and ace guitarist John Lee. Some good rhythms (pretty much a constant tonight), nice organ solos, as well as brass and guitar gave heft to these feel-good songs. The trombonist for Black Masala[51] jumped in a couple of times.

Group 2 featured local singer songwriter Nila Kay, joined by Elikeh's rhythm section and another guitarist. She showed about as much diversity as possible in her 14 minute 3-song set starting off with a quirky pop/power-pop oddity that had fascinating hooks twisting in and out. Next was a loungier blues and to finish if off, there was a ripping Bo Diddley beat for the final rocker. She is certainly someone to watch if this is any indication of the diverse and creative directions she is capable of.

Group 3 feature a bit more of the Elikeh band assisted with some Chopteeth members and an extra guitarist, Jaja Bashengezi. Then one more guitarist, Vieux Farka Toure also joined in as this short set was rocking hard while keeping up a good personal R&B flavor deep in the groove. The searing guitar solos were the highlight of course, but the whole band really pushed things up a notch.

Group 4 stripped it down to John Lee on guitar, with a guest bassist for most of the set and a drummer. In front of this Elin Kathleen Melgarejo of Alma Tropicalia and as the name suggests, this brought in a bit of Brazilian Tropicalia into tonight's blend. It was very Gal Costa-like, such as the period when someone like Os Mutantes backed her. In fact, they finished with "Bat Macumba", Os Mutantes' most party-friendly song from their canon.

And finally, Group 5 featured Cheick Hamala Diabate with members of his band among others from the previous bands. He played banjo and and a West African lute called a n'goni, which was electrified. And good thing too, because at times he was surrounded by Vieux Farka Toure and his guitarist battling it out at high volume (see photo above). They did bring it down some with Toure leading a song that was reminiscent of Skynyrd's "Simple Man" surprisingly enough (and perfectly fine by me). Diabate is an impressive artist and gave the evening a classy finish.

While it was almost impossible to find fault with something so well intentioned, even a 'music-only' person would have been impressed by this amazing array of talent who were able to play together so well tonight. So please support these bands as they play around DC and of course, support Vieux Farka Toure and his charity work for Mali.


This interviewer is indebted to the assistance from Kim, who interpreted from French, as English is one of the lesser of eight languages that Mali native, Vieux Farka Toure has in his arsenal. Although as the world knows, he speaks most eloquently through the guitar. He is in town to show off his skills with an all-star line-up of some of the finest area musicians in local African and world music based bands. Thanks to Mr. Toure for giving me a few minutes after being up nearly a whole day while flying through Europe and crossing the Atlantic to DC.

David Hintz: This is a very special show here Wednesday night at the Liv Nightclub. Although you have been to DC many times, this is not just you and your band, but an all-star type of band, so you could you tell us about it.

Vieux Farka Toure: OK, it is a very special show, not like coming to a club for a show. It is with friends and brothers. We are trying to get an organization started called Amahrec-Sahel.

And this is a charitable organization you are starting?

Yes, I am starting everything, although Massama (Dogo of DC band Elikeh) is also getting involved as we have known each other quite awhile and in effect we have become brothers. It is not often good to do things alone. This is a humanitarian project.

Is it focused on Mali or broader regions? |

For the moment, we are focused on Mali since that is where I am based and I have seen the problems that have gone on in Mali, that is where we will focus first. Although for example, Massama is from Togo and if there were problems and things to happen in Togo in the future, then they could work to get donations and base some projects in Togo. They will start by taking a little bit for Mali and then everything will eventually be for Africa. The whole goal for it is to be African. And if there are other organizations that have the need for finances and if there is money available, then we will be able to help those organizations. Musicians are more easily able to get funding and use their marketing. I wanted to start off with the fundraiser in DC with all my friends here.

Great, are there any other fundraisers planned?

There are no planned fundraisers at present, but during my concerts I will ask people for donations. Then if other NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) ask for money, it is available. And right now we are looking for other people to help because we obviously can't do everything by ourselves. And if there are foundations able to help, that would be great. For example, the foundation of Ali Farka Toure will also participate.

The music of Mali is quite famous, in large part due to your father and yourself, but has music always been a big part of Mali and your father helped bring it to the world? Did we find out what was always there or are more younger people getting into music there as a result?

Yes, actually the older generation of musicians paved the way for the younger generation. Mali has the most international artists in all of Africa… there are so many to name. It has the most culture and Mali holds on to its culture.

That is the curiosity I had whether it was like an Austin or Nashville or New York… as it has seem to have exploded over the years. But the older generation was important.

They were the ones that really worked hard to get everyone aware of Malian music. So the next generation finds that it is good and they are just continuing to push the music even further.

Now in Malian music, I was at one of your shows and a guy sitting with me was trying to explain the difference between north and west and tribal this and that, so I am curious if you formally studied the regional differences or not?

Now in Mali it is not really strictly split up into regions as everyone tends to pick up the music from all of the regions. It is all mixed together because you will get a group of musicians and they will all have different ethnicities, so they will bring it all in together. But yes, I did specifically learn the northern style of music first, but then because I played with Toumani Diabate, I learned the music of the south from him. He is the most famous kora player not only in Africa, but in the world.

And you have recently collaborated with an Israeli musician that you met while hanging around an airport as I've heard the story go.


And is that how you go forward with surprising musical encounters or do you try to plan out specific projects?

Sometimes it will be that you try playing together and find that it just mixes well and goes together so we'll continue and do something with it. There has been something with Dave Matthews and even with Massama (Elikeh singer and guitarist) because we've collaborated now.

First published & full interview @

Photo Credits: (1) Elikeh, (2) Vieux Farka Toure (unknown).

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