As the late Ali Farka Touré leaves the stage, his nephew Afel Bocoum continues his tentative emergence from the shadow of his more famous and prodigiously talented uncle.
Rather than imitate his mentor’s rough-edged river-blues, Afel’s ensemble is a slightly lighter, more traditional one comprising his own nimble acoustic guitar picking supported by bass, njurkle (mono-chord lute), calabash and njarka (traditional Malian violin). The band’s sound has a dry, earthy texture over which soar Bocoum’s clear and expressive vocals.
Perhaps inevitably, he’s written a song in tribute to his uncle. The aching sound of Yoro Cissé's njurkle welcomes in the album-opener Ali Farka, a lament with the heart-breaking line "my life’s best friend is gone, leaving me disturbed." Manni is a tribute to the organiser of the Festival in the Desert, and has a delightful swinging Mandinka mood, similar in tone to another highlight Denke Denke, a charming dance tune traditional to the Peul tribe, to which Bocoum's mother belongs. Inkey comes closest to a desert blues sound, a rare appearance from the electric guitar adding some bite to a flighty melody from Hassey Saré's njarka.
Afel Bocoum’s philosophical concerns include drought in his home village, the erosion of traditional values, the corrupting influence of money, and the drying-up of the Niger. The latter subject tackled in a song that's given the wide-open, undulating feel of the great river by guest musicians Habib Koité on guitar and Irishmen Liam Ó Maonlaí on flute and Paddy Keenan on harp.
Like his illustrious tutor before him, Afel Bocoum divides his time between his professional work (as an agricultural advisor) and music. If he's as good at the day job as he is at the hobby, Ali Farka Touré's legacy is in safe hands in more ways than one.