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The Toure-Raichel Collective: 'Two Chefs In The Kitchen'

Apr 15, 2012
Originally published on April 15, 2012 2:26 pm

Idan Raichel first met Malian guitar luminary Vieux Farka Toure in a chance encounter at an airport in Germany. Raichel, an Israeli pop star and keyboard player, had admired Toure's work— as well as that of his father, the late Ali Farka Toure — for many years before they crossed paths.

"I just thought it would be amazing to collaborate with him," Raichel says. "I invited him to play at the opera house in Tel Aviv, and he came with his band for an unforgettable evening."

Shortly thereafter, the duo met up in a small recording studio for a short jam session.

"By coincidence, we recorded what we played there for three hours. We actually recorded a mix of Malian rhythms mixed with Israeli melodies — all originals, but very influenced from both our cultures," Raichel says.

That initial jam session was the beginning of a greater collaboration, which is now known as the Toure-Raichel Collective. The duo has recorded a studio album called The Tel Aviv Sessions, which features songs that infuse elements from both of their cultural backgrounds — something that came naturally to the two musicians.

"It was like having two chefs in the kitchen," Raichel says. "At the end of the day, everyone uses the basics: sugar, or salt, or water. So we went to the basics of both of our cultures and we just let the music flow."

The Toure-Raichel Collective played songs from its new album, The Tel Aviv Session, live in NPR's Studio 4A.

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IDAN RAICHEL: (Foreign language spoken)

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This past week saw quite a multicultural mix of musicians pay a visit to us in NPR's Studio 4A.

VIEUX FARKA TOURE: (Foreign language spoken)

MARTIN: Israeli pop star and keyboard player Idan Raichel settled in at the piano. Malian world music luminary Vieux Farka Toure sang and played guitar. With band mates from Israel and Mali, the Toure-Raichel Collective has just launched a North American tour to play music from their new CD. It's called "The Tel Aviv Sessions."

They played for us in our studio. Here's their song "Hawa," which Vieux Farke Toure named after his daughter.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAWA")

MARTIN: That was the Toure-Raichel Collective, playing for us here in NPR's Studio 4A. That was lovely. Idan Raichel is on the piano, welcome to the program.

RAICHEL: Thank you. Thank you for having us here.

MARTIN: And Vieux Farka Toure on guitar. Thanks so much for coming in.

TOURE: Thank you.

MARTIN: If I could ask you, Idan, if you don't mind introducing your other band members?

RAICHEL: So, we have Souleymane on calabash, on percussion.

MARTIN: Souleymane Kane.

RAICHEL: Yes.

TOURE: But he plays before with Ali Farka Toure two years.

RAICHEL: Yeah.

MARTIN: Ahh. OK, he's been around with you.

TOURE: Yeah, he's an old calabash player.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Great. And he's on, we should say, this is an old gourd that's been turned into a drum.

TOURE: Yeah.

RAICHEL: We have Amit Carmeli on bass from Israel.

MARTIN: Great. Well, welcome to all of you.

And I want to start by asking about the beginning. As you might imagine, I'm curious about the genesis of your relationship. I understand you met randomly in a German airport?

RAICHEL: Yes.

TOURE: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Were you on the same flight? How did this happen?

TOURE: No, it's not the same flight but I think we...

RAICHEL: We just were connecting flights at different - I was with my band, The Idan Raichel Project. And he was with his group.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RAICHEL: It's important to say that I'm a big fan for his music on also for his dad's music for many, many years. So, I totally...

MARTIN: We should say that Vieux's father, a very famous Malian musician. And so, you knew when you saw Vieux?

RAICHEL: I already knew Vieux's music for a long time. And it was always - not even a dream just to play with him but, you know, something that I thought it would be amazing to collaborate with. I invited him to play the opera house in Tel Aviv, and he came with his band for an unforgettable evening. And actually, our recording started right after his performance at the opera house.

He told me, listen, let's just have a jam session somewhere. And we did it in a rehearsal room, kind of a semi-small studio. We just recorded what we played there for three hours.

MARTIN: Well, let's get back into the music. You're going to play another piece for us. What is this piece called?

TOURE: "Alkataou," "Peace and Love," too. You know?

RAICHEL: Yes.

MARTIN: "Peace and Love."

TOURE: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PEACE AND LOVE")

MARTIN: That's the Toure-Raichel Collective playing for us here at NPR Studio 4A. I want to ask you, Vieux, about your dad.

TOURE: OK.

MARTIN: Ali Farka Toure, a very famous musician in his own right. He passed away in 2006. And as I understand it, until very late in life, he actually didn't want you to be a musician. Is that true?

TOURE: Well, yes.

MARTIN: Why?

TOURE: Well, I think it's for the bureaucracy.

MARTIN: The bureaucracy of music?

TOURE: Yeah, of music.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TOURE: Yeah, this is why he don't, you know...

MARTIN: You don't think of music as being a big bureaucracy.

TOURE: No, because when he starting to play music, you know, he do too much problem. You know, they take him in Europe or everywhere - don't pay him.

MARTIN: Ah, it's just a hard way to make a living.

TOURE: Yeah. So he say, No, no, no, no, no, no music for you.

MARTIN: What did he want you to do?

TOURE: Ugh, army.

MARTIN: Army?

TOURE: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: He wanted you to go in the Malian army?

TOURE: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: That's a very different life.

TOURE: Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TOURE: Yeah, but my father is not a difficult guy. So, if you like this, no problem. Go ahead.

MARTIN: He got over it.

TOURE: Yeah, so...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I want to ask you, Idan, the piano is an instrument that's so rooted in Western traditions. It's - at least that's how we think of it. Does playing this kind of music allow you to play this instrument in a different way?

RAICHEL: Yes. Fifteen, 17 years ago when I was still in high school, I asked one of the greatest musicians in Israel that I admire, Mr. Yossi Fine - that also recorded with us in the album; asked him how can I get better with just the way of finding myself in the music, finding my own world. He told me just take CDs that you love, just play with them. Play accordion or play piano. Just play along with the CDs and have your voice.

And I used to play a lot with the music of Ali Farka Toure. So I started playing the style that will fit to the atmosphere. So if there is a groove like...

(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO MUSIC AND SINGING)

RAICHEL: I was starting to find the sound of how to prepare the piano in a way that...

(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO MUSIC)

RAICHEL: So it doesn't really sound like a piano, but just to find my own voice in there.

MARTIN: So you're actually - we should note, you're not just playing the keys on the piano. You're putting your hand physically inside the piano.

RAICHEL: Yes.

TOURE: He follow me when he play the...

(SOUNDBITE OF GUITAR MUSIC)

RAICHEL: Yeah.

MARTIN: So you're trying to mimic.

RAICHEL: Yes.

MARTIN: You're trying to mimic Vieux.

RAICHEL: Just to give him - Vieux, just to accompany him.

MARTIN: Accompany, yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

RAICHEL: So it will sound organic.

MARTIN: So that's so interesting though. You developed that kind of compliment to Malian music because you were practicing; you were playing along CDs of Vieux's father.

RAICHEL: Yes, it's kind of a big circle, a long way that it all led to playing with Farka Toure.

MARTIN: I mean it is kind of surreal. Isn't it...

RAICHEL: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...when you think this was a dream of yours since you were a kid?

RAICHEL: Yes. Yes. So I'm very happy that we met in this airport. You know?

MARTIN: Well, on that note, what would you like to play us out with?

RAICHEL: We wish to invite our musician friend that joined us here in D.C., Frederic Yonnet. He's a great harmonica player, and he will play us.

MARTIN: OK, the Toure-Raichel Collective. Let's take a listen.

RAICHEL: All right.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TOURE")

MARTIN: That's the Toure-Raichel Collective performing in NPR's Studio 4A with harmonica player Frederic Yonnet. You can hear the full recordings from the session on our website, NPRMusic.org.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News I'm Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.