MALI/ISRAEL: The Tel-Aviv Session - The Touré-Raichel Collective
Updated: Nov 1, 2021
Africa meets the Middle-East in a glorious symposium of creative exchange
Collaboration, although a beautiful notion in principle, is sometimes a tricky thing to get right. There is always a risk that ego gets in the way and rather than enhancing a project, instead styles and personalities can easily collide causing a collaboration to fail. For any collaboration in life to be a success, there needs to be open-mindedness, patience and compassion implemented. Those are not always easy traits to exercise, especially when one arrives to a collaboration with a certain creative vision in mind, unsure whether their partner will be able to deliver to their own standard. Not alone in this project to discover and write about the music of every country in the world, I know from first-hand experience that creative collaborations pose unique challenges. However, so too has this adventure taught me that when they work well and flourish, the fruit that collaborations bear can be so sweet.
“...I feel the record’s success stems from the fact that it teaches us about the upsides of putting ego and reputation to one side for the greater good of creating something magical. ”
As the son of an Israeli, I arrived to this project with slightly more knowledge of Israeli music than arguably that of any other nation aside the UK or the US. Therefore, I was wholly aware of the immense status that keyboardist Idan Raichel holds in his homeland, already a huge fan of Mi'ma'amakim and his legendary debut album The Idan Raichel Project. What’s more, as this journey of world music discovery got underway last year, there were two musicians from arguably the world’s greatest music nation Mali whose names kept cropping up – Salif Keita and Ali Farka Touré. As a consequence one can imagine my disbelief when I was recommended a record in which the son of the latter, Vieux Farka Touré, and the aforementioned Raichel play together. I was nervous at first, because it is very rare that a child can ever carry forward the baton of a legendary parent, regardless of the discipline, in the same way as the parent did whilst in their pomp. Furthermore, I aIso could not envisage how two musicians of such high-regard from such different musical styles could find common ground….Boy, was I wrong to doubt them!
At the time of release a lot was made of the fact that a Muslim and a Jew were coming together to perform. Whilst there are obvious political connotations that can be drawn from their harmonious partnership, I find this kind of base-level analysis, in which critics found themselves in a state of amazement that two people from different Abrahamic religions found it possible to come together to produce such a wonderful piece of work, almost patronising and condescending. For me, the sense of awe I felt in listening to the album was rooted in the fact that both musicians’ sense of genius was elevated by playing alongside one another, in what seemed to be a mostly improvised album. The music, simply put, is often stunning and even sometimes totally mesmerising. I never feel that the Middle Eastern rhythms overshadow the Malian ones, nor do I ever feel the reverse. The pair complement each other phenomenally, with Raichel almost improving the sound of Farka Touré’s guitar and the Malian doing the same to the Israeli’s keyboards.
The story goes that the album only came about due to a chance meeting in a German airport where Farka Touré was invited by Raichel for a jam session in Tel Aviv. To me, the album barely sounds improvised but rather meticulously thought out. The fact that the pair were only recording together for 3 hours is astounding. This team-building mission peaks on Kfar, to my taste which is a true masterpiece made all the better due to the inclusion of Yankele Segal on the Iranian tar – any regular readers will know I am a sucker for any instrument that replicates that sweet lutish sound of a kora. There are so many other brilliant tunes such as Experience where Raichel’s wonderful work on the keys tees Farka Touré up magnificently to shine, creating an almost hypnotic sound. There are also vocals to be adored on the album from Ethiopian-Israeli singer Cabra Casey who truly shines on Ane Nahatka, another stunningly beautiful track. The inclusion of a vocalist keeps the album alive and fresh as at one point it seems to be close to running its course due to the rather long running time. There isn’t a bad song on the album and overall I feel the record’s success stems from the fact that it teaches us about the upsides of putting ego and reputation to one side for the greater good of creating something magical.