Vieux Farka Touré and Khruangbin Ali Dead Oceans
For the first five years of their career, Texan trio Khruangbin played like a group so confidently self-contained in their musical universe that to collaborate with another artist would have been a needless detour from a finely-crafted sound.
Yet, from 2020, the band have been opening up their triad with satisfying results. Two EPs with soul singer Leon Bridges showcased Khruangbin as deft songwriters, capable of distilling meandering arrangements into gorgeously focused tracks like Texas Sun and Mariella. In Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Touré, they find a musical partner equally capable of pushing deeper into unique sound worlds.
Their collaborative album, Ali, is a reworking of eight tracks by Touré’s late father of the same name – a pioneer of the earthy, melodically intricate genre known as desert blues. It’s a perfect match considering Touré’s music has much in common with Khruangbin’s own finger-picking harmonies which borrow from Thai funk and the mystical qualities of the desertscape.
Opener Savanne showcases Vieux’s husky vocal, harmonising with the soft backing of bassist Laura Lee’s falsetto, while Lobbo sees drummer Donald Johnson, Jr. lock in with a typically concise groove to bolster Touré and Mark Speer’s interweaving guitar lines. The group also highlight lesser-known rarities, like Alakarra, in their selection of covers – a standout moment that fizzes with funk-fuelled energy.
Channelling Ali’s guiding spirit of improvisation, Khruangbin and Touré let these decades-old sounds speak for themselves, reimagining them subtly but meaningfully with added layers of echo-drenched vocals, reverb-laced guitars, and crisp percussion. On Ali, Khruangbin and Touré successfully build on his family’s rich legacy, bridging the gap between tradition and modernity.