July 25, 2006

African Music Legends - Ali Farka Toure

The legendary guitarist from Mali, Ali Farka Toure, lauded as the King of the African Blues, the Godfather of Desert Blues, and the King of Sahara, passed away earlier this year. (Obituaries from BBC, NYT, Guardian, NPR, and various bloggers and online sites & forums remember him fondly.)

Thanks to BBC's World Music Audio Archive, listen to a great tribute show here (real player download)
Following the death of the mighty Malian guitarist Ali Farka Toure, Lucy Duran and Andy Kershaw presented a special tribute to their friend. The programme includes some of the desert bluesman's essential tracks, as well as material from the BBC's own archive, and contributions from Ali's friend and producer Nick Gold.

You can isten to a number of clips featuring Ali Farka Toure's music on NPR's All Songs Considered, including an interview (real player download) with his long-time producer, Nick Gold (also the man who bought us the Buena Vista Social Club). Nick describes his journey to Nikafune near Timbaktu to record the album, Niafunké.

...forsaking fame in Europe and the US, which came aplenty, Ali Farka Toure retired in the 1990s from all travel and music recitals abroad, instead developing and spending the remainder of his life developing his farm in Nikafune. He refused to travel to he US to even produce albums and apparently even did not travel to the US to get his Grammy, famously saying..."I don't know what a Grammy means but if someone has something for me, they can come and give it to me here in Niafunke, where I was singing when nobody knew me.")
Ali Farka Toure enjoyed his life in Niafune.
"Africa is my source of inspiration, my home base, my joy".
Contrary to many African artists, Ali Farka Touré was never tempted to exile himself in the West, during the seventies and eighties when the expansion of World Music drew many of them to Europe. Quite the contrary. This musician, whose musical culture is impressive, respected and revered throughout the world, is truly closer than any other to his own land, Mali. To such a degree that today, after winning over the international music scene with his sensitive, inspired blues, he now spends most of his time farming.
Markus James visited Ali Farka Toure in Mali in January 2006, a few weeks before Ali's passing, and shares his thoughts about his long-time friend and inspiration.

Reviewing his album,
Savane, released posthumously earlier this month, Robin Desenlow of the Guardian, writes:
There may be other recordings of his that have yet to be released (including sessions with the world's finest kora player, Toumani Diabaté, recorded at the time of their memorable concert together at the Barbican last year), but this is the last solo album by the best-known and best-loved guitarist in Africa, and it's simply outstanding. He described it as "my best album evera" and he was absolutely right. Even compared to the much-praised earlier work by Mali's "godfather of the desert blues", this is a set that's remarkable for its sheer variety and passion, along with the expected but still thrilling guitar work, and some less predictably fine vocals.
And Charlie Gillett reviewing the album, Savane, in the Observer wrote:
The great bluesman's posthumous album is the finest of his career. Remember him this way.
Farka Toure won his second Grammy earlier this year for Heart of the Moon, BBC's Album of the Year* (hear Hawa Dolo from this album) and his collaboration with Toumani Diabaté, the great African kora player, having won one for Talking Timbaktu, a collaboration with American guitarist, Ry Cooder, in 1994.

*The BBC review had this to say about the album: "It sounds like an established partnership made in heaven"..

Earlier Reviews in The Guardian
Ali Farka Touré/Toumani Diabaté, Barbican, London
24.06.2005: CD: Ali Farka Touré commit; Diabaté, In the Heart of the Moon
12.11.2004: CD: Ali Farka Toure, Red & Green

Other links of interest:
Ali Farka Toure- Live In Niafunke
Afropop makes the pilgrimage to visit Grammy Award winner Ali Farka Toure in his beloved hometown of Niafunke on the banks of the Niger River in northern Mali. In this sublime set, Ali plays acoustic with musical mates on the njarka (one string violin), and the gurkel (two string instrument w/metal piece for buzz) and calabash (gourd used for percussion). Ali talks about what family and his community in Niafunke mean to him. Listen to the selection of his songs at the above link or via
Read an interview with Ali Farka Toure

And last but not least, see these videos via YouTube:
Ali Farka Toure with Corey Harris
Ali Farka Toure part 1
Ali Farka Toure part 2
Ali Farka Toure part 3
Ali Farka Toure part 4
Ali Farka Toure part 5
Ali Farka Toure part 6

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