Vieux Farka Toure is a fascinating figure: fluent in eight languages, skilled upon multiple instruments and charitable beyond the expectations of a working musician. Los Angeles-based filmmaker Ian Campbell is in the process of creating a documentary about the musician, dubbed ‘the Hendrix of the Sahara,’ which aims to thoroughly explore the impact of his music. Having recently achieved its funding target, we decided to check in with Ian to ask about his love for Vieux’s music and what makes the Malian musician such a unique figure for a documentary film. Campbell reveals his favourite of Vieux’s records, explains more about the famous figures important to telling his story and explains in his own words, why Vieux is such a tremendous performer. Vieux Farka Toure returns to Band on the Wall on 18th October.
Congratulations on reaching the funding target for your Vieux Farka Toure documentary. What will these funds enable you to do; what’s left to strike off the checklist?
Ian Campbell: ‘I ran a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign when I first started shooting this documentary a year ago. It was a complete failure! I had just begun to work on the doc and had no following on social media, not to mention that I had never done a crowdfunding campaign before. So when that failed I moved forward with the doc anyway, self-financing for about a year.
This time around I had much better following on social media and generally more awareness of the documentary. I was trying to raise funds to complete filming/production phase of the doc and, as you mentioned, it was a success. These funds will enable me to complete principal filming of the doc. I am traveling with Vieux on tour in Spain, the UK and Ireland. This will wrap up my filming of his live shows. Then I will travel to Mali to capture Vieux making music, interviews with various Malian musicians and more of his life in Mali. On top of that I have plans to interview some great musicians and experts on Malian music and culture.’
Vieux Farka Toure is a prodigious talent. For those unfamiliar with his work, how would you surmise what makes he and his music so wonderful?
IC: ‘Well, that’s part of what my documentary is about so talk to me early next year! He has a very warm and inviting personality. He has a great stage presence, despite any language barriers, audiences seem to love him and his music. His skill on the guitar is right up there with any world class guitar player. If you just sit and watch him playing you start to wonder how so much sound comes out of his playing. All while picking with one finger and thumb!’
Vieux’s father, Ali Farka Toure, was tremendously influential throughout the world, but nowhere more so than in Bamako, where a statue of him stands in the square baring his name. How significant was Ali’s influence upon Vieux? Have the two of you discussed his father while making the film?
IC: ‘Vieux’s father continues to be a huge presence in Mali and in Vieux’s life. Ali made an impact on the world music scene that is still important today. Not just musically, but Ali tried to help his country and his people in many ways. Whether is was passed in the blood or just endless nights sitting with his father playing music, Vieux has picked up where Ali left this world and is bringing his father’s music and influence to new generation. Vieux is proud of his father and the work he did and pays homage to him musically.’
When and where did you first see Vieux perform and what were your impressions, have presumably heard his music before seeing him play?
IC: ‘Me and my wife first heard Vieux’s music after volunteering at a local music station, KCRW. We were offered a free CD on our way out after our shift and literally “judged a book by the cover” and grabbed Vieux’s “Fondo” album. We popped it in the player on the way home and immediately fell in love with the music. I had never heard anything like it before. The way he played the guitar and the beats were just so captivating. The music just makes you feel good. So for years we continued to listen to his music and go to see his shows when he came to town. Over the years I developed a fantasy of shooting a documentary around Vieux and through a series of fortunate events the opportunity presented itself. Meeting Vieux for the first time face to face was a great experience, he is outgoing and personable, friendly and generous.’
Matthew McConaughey is one of the famous faces we see in the film trailer. How did you discover his interest in the music and has securing interviews with figures such as he, been a challenge?
IC: ‘Matthew McConaughey is a huge fan of Ali Farka Touré. He traveled to Mali several times when Ali was alive and has great stories of his experiences there. Tracking down the right one of his “people” to talk to took a little work but once he heard of the project, I guess he thought it sounded cool and was very open to being involved. There are a few other folks that I’m trying to pin down for an interview that have not been as easy. I’m looking at you Dave Matthews and Ry Cooder. I don’t think I need to explain both of their importance to Vieux’s career and music.’
Vieux now has a substantial back catalogue. If you had to keep just one album and discard the rest, which would it be?
IC: ‘The Secret.’