THIS weekend, I attended a concert at Torontoâ€™s Harbourfront by Vieux Farka Toure, the hugely talented and rising son of the late Malian bluesman Ali Farka Toure who died a year ago. It was a sold out concert and were it not for the generosity of a friend, I would have missed out altogether.
The enthusiasm for the show was understandable because this was the first time the young man was coming to Canada to perform. More importantly, he was the son of the legendary guitarist who popularised the dry sweet sound of Malian traditional music to the world, in the process earning two Grammy Awards for Talking Timbuktu in 1994 and In the Heart of the Moon in early 2006.
As we stood in line waiting to be let into Brigantine Room at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto, I looked around to see who else was coming to enjoy the music.
On hand for the occasion were the regulars whose love for African music is irrepressible.
In the line were my friend Soni and his wife Rohini who, despite their Indian heritage, are ardent African music connoisseurs and would never miss an African music event.
There was Nadine â€” Italian, who inherited the show Karibuni which I founded on CIUT 89.5 FM in the early 1990s and still runs strong. So were Todd and his wife Patsy. Arlene from Buffalo, New York State also came. John came prepared to take in the music and capture the images with his camera. But where are the Africans, I wondered to myself.
In fact, once inside the music hall, it dawned on me that the crowd was almost exclusively white with the exception of a smattering of Africans, perhaps 25 altogether in a crowd of about 450 patrons. This, despite the fact that there is a sizable African community in Toronto comprising of Ethiopians, Ghanaians, Somalis, Ugandans, South Africans and so forth. Yet, somehow, the African communities were nowhere to be seen.
Now, it may have to do with the way the media advertised the event. Toureâ€™s show received massive mainstream media coverage (often looked at by Africans as â€˜white mediaâ€™) in the Toronto Star, the CBC and on CIUT Radio.
The popular weekly Now Magazine, gushing with sheer admiration for Vieux, wrote the headline that screamed, â€˜The rising sonâ€™.
Unfortunately, the majority of Africans in the community probably do not read Now Magazine, the Toronto Star or listen to the CBC and would not have known that the young Toure was coming to town.
There is also the possibility that Africans from the continent tend to stick to their regional tastes such that those from West Africa will have nothing to do with music from East Africa, and East Africans could care less for South African music.
The narrow concept of what constitutes good music limits the number of Africans enjoying cross-cultural ambiance. In this case, they stayed away in drove, leaving me and a few others as the token Africans at the African show. This was a white affair for the most part.
And so for the Canadians who came for the show, many of whom likely have never travelled to Africa, it was almost like a spiritual event, a sacred religion that defined their very existence, the essence of life, something not to be missed because one would have missed out on life itself.
So they came by the hundreds, and on this occasion were clearly not disappointed.
The concert started late after 10:30p.m, but soon, young Toure had whipped up enough energy to get everyone swaying to the music.
He attacked the string with passion that cascaded across the hall.
Yes, very often, there were flashes of the old man in the young musician, but for the most part he stood on his own feet, creating his own tune even when he was playing his dadâ€™s favourite tune like Lasidan.
Naturally, the music critic in me was listening with skeptical ears. On numerous occasions Vieux was imperceptibly rescued by the seasoned rhythm guitar play by Mama Cissoko, a veteran of the Malian who kept everything rolling so smoothly that the jubilant crowd did not notice the mistakes.
Yes, like many, I came to see how Vieux Toure stacked up against his late fatherâ€™s huge talent, how much he was his fatherâ€™s son. In the end, like many, I found myself nodding in keeping with the music.
The young man was his own man, with his own style and language of performing the blues, thereby keeping alive the ancient music of the griots of Mali.
I also could not help thinking that while the ancient music of Africa will likely survive for many years, its roots will be nourished and kept alive not on the continent, but in the new world where many non-Africans have discovered its healing beauty, the soothing quality for the soul and calming effect on the spirits that yearn for authenticity in arid wasteland of a Metropolis like Toronto where steel, automobiles, pollution and fast-paced lifestyle are de rigueur.
It is in places like Toronto, where African music still gets wide-eyed adulation from the crowd that it continues to live and breathe and renew itself, far away from the birth place where it is slowly disappearing.
All thatâ€™s to say I enjoyed myself tremendously.