Vieux Farka Touré is probably the biggest music star you've never heard of.
The Malian singer-guitarist is musical royalty in North Africa, where fans all but worshiped his father, the late guitarist Ali Farka Touré. Now, the 30-year-old is carrying on his dad's legacy, blending sounds from his homeland with rock, reggae and other influences for a style that's all his own. His 2006 self-titled debut album garnered critical praise and created worldwide buzz. Touré now counts many Westerners, including spoken-word performer Henry Rollins, among his American fans. You can see what all the hype is about this weekend, when he plays the State Theatre in St. Petersburg.
Tbt* called Touré on a tour stop in Hattiesburg, Miss., as he relaxed in his room at the Holiday Inn. He spoke through his manager, Deborah Cohen, who interpreted Touré's responses from French to English.
A lot of Americans consider African music exotic, but can you talk about how it influences what we consider mainstream music?
As my father always said, the kinds of music that you consider in America as indigenous — for instance, blues — is not really indigenous. That's the music we play at home. It's our traditional music, and it was brought over here. So there is that root already that's very, very deep. The same holds for jazz. ... You can take a Malian musician and throw him in the midst of any kind of American music, and he'll be able to play it. Whereas, we very often see even the greatest musicians from America coming to Mali to hang out with us to learn techniques or whatever, and they very often sit gobsmacked for hours watching us 'cause the techniques are so different. ... It's really difficult for Americans to grasp. Then once they get it, they realize how far back that goes, and then they can bring it back home.
What's on your iPod?
I kind of have three different spaces for my music. At home, I always listen to more traditional African music — Malian music, particularly. That's where I get my inspiration. In the car, I listen to music that moves. I listen to a lot of reggae, hip-hop and rap. And on my iPod, I have a huge variety of stuff — everything that I pick up on the road, stuff that people give me, stuff that people send me.
Who are some of your favorite under-the-radar musicians?
I'd say probably Billy Branch, who's a blues harmonica player from the South Side in Chicago, who is ... an absolute genius. Another guy I just played with in Chicago, too, Jacob Daneman, who is a clarinetist and who can play absolutely anything.
Your father tried to talk you out of a career in music?
I had three choices, really: I could go in the army, as my father wanted. I tried it for a year and hated it. ... I could have been a truck driver, which I was trained to do, but that's not really much of a career, either. The fact is, in music it's something where I can bring something to the world. I can bring happiness to people.