Despite Portland’s slightly vain but well earned self-absorption with its own local music scene, it is a real gift when internationally renowned artists come to this far northwestern corner. Malian singer/songwriter Vieux Farka Touré played for an adoring audience at Mississippi Studios last Friday night.
Son of the legendary Ali Farka Touré, Vieux Farka Touré continues his father’s legacy with a sound that is astonishingly beautiful. Touré’s blues-y approach to his distinct form of African fingerstyle guitar evokes a feeling of desert romance that pulls the listener into a lingering trance. Touré’s performance brought a simultaneously invigorating and pacifying energy to the Mississippi Studios, and the symbiosis between Touré and the crowd was intense. Hardly a few songs went by without a piercing whistle or a worshipful yell from the back. This was not a bystander type of crowd. The audience was acutely aware of what they came for, and paid homage with their level of engrossment and immersion, both physical and mental. Touré was mutually attentive, and welcomed several people to dance on stage during longer instrumental sessions.
The rendition of “Fafa” elicited the strongest response from the crowd, as Touré stretched out the instrumentals long enough for a healthy and lasting dance session. Another star of the evening, which Touré wasted no time in pointing out, was calabash player Souleymane Kané. Despite being somewhat hidden from the audience, Kane’s calabash infiltrated the Mississippi Studios’ acoustics with a sultry drama synonymous with Toure’s desert blues.
To transition back into Portland’s own scene, local group Tezeta Band opened up the evening, introducing another distinctly African genre. In fact, Tezeta Band’s sound is almost a niche, as they focus specifically on 1970s Ethiopian dance music. The soulful yet lively distinction is instantly catchy. Clear funk and jazz undertones are peppered with a dominating and elaborate trombone portion, resulting in a retro lounge-y charm.
Tezeta Band’s Ethio-centric focus brought another sound from West Africa into focus and served as an appropriate though not blatantly obvious pairing to the Malian master’s sound. Their set was playful and jam packed with music; mid-set talking was kept at a minimum (which, if I may add, I always appreciate). Instead, Tezeta band delivered a deliciously gooey, melty, warm dish of funk rooted grooviness.