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- Posted on Jul 24th 2007 11:00AM by Steve Hochman
"To be honest, I listen to the remixes more than the original album."
That's from Malian musician Vieux Farka Touré, and in this case he knows a bit about the original album in question. He made it. He's discussing '"Remixed: UFOs Over Bamako,' which features various DJs and producers reworking tracks from his recent international debut, 'Vieux Farka Touré.'
So while sometimes you have to wonder if the artists behind the source material even care about the remixes beyond whatever royalties they might collect, that's far from the case here. And he has good cause for giving his blessing -- literally in that the album in part supports the fight against malaria in Mali. But artistically it merits his praise, too. 'UFOs,' for the most part, delivers creative tracks that effectively find varying balance points between the original recordings and added sounds. The roster of remixers includes some of the top figures in multicultural blending, including Karsh Kale (whose collaboration album with Anoushka Shankar is due for late-August release), Cheb i Sabbah and Nickodemus.
Not all of them transcend the mundane or obvious -- a few sound as if the remixer wasn't too up on Malian music but thought, "Oh! Exotic melodies! Let's put some smashing beats to them!" And there are some clear cases of overkill, with the most enticing episodes being those done by the subtlest hands, the added elements merely enhancing the originals, not obliterating them. But the strong moments carry the day.
"It's important that the spirit of the songs - their essence - not be lost," says Touré, in the middle of a North American tour that includes four Los Angeles appearances August 8 through 10, with more U.S. dates in the fall and a U.K. swing in November. "I think the remixers did a fantastic job in making sure that while they were taking the music out of its original character, they didn't take the character out of the music."
You might think that Touré already had enough on his plate in terms of messing with some beloved traditions. He's the son of Ali Farka Touré, who died in 2006 as the most recognizable figure worldwide in Malian music, credited with making the strong link between West African styles and American blues as well as putting sub-Saharan sounds squarely in the international spotlight. That's plenty of legacy with which to be entrusted, let alone handing over to a bunch of studio-tanned knob-twirlers.
"I am part of a new generation pushing music from Mali forward," Touré says. "The remix project is the perfect realization of this ambition, touching a whole new generation of people with Malian music -- people that would not otherwise know it."
Touré readily admits that his active role in this project beyond was pretty much restricted to giving the OK when it was suggested to him by his producer Eric Herman and Jesse Brenner, co-founders of Brooklyn-based Modiba Productions, which released the new album and co-released the first one through the World Village label.
"I had no idea what to expect," Touré says. "But I told them, 'Go ahead.' I was so amazed with the results several months later, I can't even describe to you."
And he finds himself liking the approaches at both extremes of the scale. "Amongst my favorites are Yossi Fine's remix of 'Mahine Cocore' and Nickodemus' 'Sanger,' which both stay very true to the original songs, but also Chris Annibell's 'Wosouboor' and Goonda's 'Ana,' which completely flip the songs upside-down," he says. "For me, if the beat is good, I'll enjoy it."
Together, the original album and the remix are a complementary pair, the former showing Touré finding his own identity in firmly rooted traditions (including recordings with his father and kora master Toumani Diabaté), the latter showing some new directions.
"It helps demonstrate who I am by bringing my music to an entirely new group of people," Touré says. "And it also lets people know that I am not afraid to take risks and try new things."
He already has a few thoughts about future horizon-expanding projects. "I've been thinking a lot about my next album -- about bringing in musicians from other parts of Africa and the rest of the world, too. There are so many musicians and styles to draw from. I'm just getting started!"
But let's not overlook the other reason the remix album means so much to him. Both it and the original album are dedicated to fighting devastating spreads of malaria in Touré's native Niafunke region of Mali, part of Modiba's ongoing efforts to use Afrocentric music to drive social and political change. Ten percent of proceeds from both album's sales and $5 from each sale of special "Fight Malaria" T-shirts are being donated to an effort called Bée Sago (which means "work together" in Mali's Bambara language), which distributes insecticide-treated mosquito nets in the area. More information can be found at www.fightmalaria.net.
Says Touré, "If this can get people dancing and help raise awareness about the serious problem of malaria in Mali, we have done an extraordinary thing."