Ali Farka Touré is well known as one of the most influential and talented guitarists that Africa has ever produced. His legacy and impact are hard to overstate. Ali’s sound merged his much-loved traditional Malian musical styles with distinct elements of the blues, singing in the local languages of Fulfulde, Tamasheq, Songhay and Bambara. The result was the creation of a groundbreaking new genre, now well known as the ‘desert blues’, earning him three Grammy awards, widespread reverence and the nickname of the ‘African John Lee Hooker’.
Though he transcended in 2006, Ali’s musical legacy lives on through his son, Vieux aka “the Hendrix of the Sahara,” an accomplished guitarist and champion of Malian music in his own right. On Ali, his collaborative album with Khruangbin, Vieux pays homage to his father by recreating some of his most resonant work, putting new twists on it while maintaining the original’s integrity. The result is a rightful ode to a legend.
Ali isn’t just a greatest hits compilation. It’s a lullaby, a remembrance of Ali’s life through known highlights and B-sides from his catalog. It is a testament to what happens when creativity is approached through open arms and open hearts. “To me, music is magic, it is spontaneous, it is the energy between people,” Vieux says. “I think Khruangbin understands this very well.”
The genesis of the album dates back to 2019, when Khruangbin, coming off their breakthrough album Con Todo el Mundo, was beginning to play to bigger crowds. The record was finished in 2021, as a global pandemic shuttered businesses and forced us to take stock of what Earth was becoming. Indirectly, Ali captures this as a moment of peace within a raging storm, a conversation between past and present without allegiance to suffering. Now, given Khruangbin’s reach as a unit with legions of fans (including the likes of Jay-Z and Paul McCartney), they’re poised to bring Malian music to broader groups of listeners.
Ali is a masterful work in which the love surrounding it is just as vital as the music itself, driving it to unforeseen places; Vieux and Khruangbin are spreading the good word to a completely new generation. “I hope it takes them somewhere new, or puts them in a place they haven’t felt or heard,” Lee says. “It is about the love of new friendship and making something beautiful together,” Vieux continues. “It is about pouring your love into something old to make it new again. In the end and in a word it is love, that’s all.”