Ali Farka Toure (1939-2006)
Ali Farka Toure "Ali Farka Toure" (Mango/World Circuit, 1988)
The groundbreaking American debut disc of one of Africa's greatest stars, the late Ali Farka Toure, a Malian griot who fused local, regional musical traditions with Delta-style blues. The hypnotic qualities of his music are appealing, but for me the similarities to American bluesman John Lee Hooker are a drawback -- this is soulful, but monotonous. If you get on his wavelength, though, it's very rewarding... I am certainly in the minority as far as most world music fans go regarding the whole Ali Farka Toure phenomenon, so take what I say with a grain of salt...
Ali Farka Toure "African Blues" (Shanachie, 1990)
Ali Farka Toure & Amadou Cisse "The River" (World Circuit/Mango, 1990)
Ali Farka Toure & Taj Mahal "The Source" (World Circuit/Hannibal, 1993)
Ali Farka Toure & Ry Cooder "Talking Timbuktu" (Rykodisc, 1994)
Zillions of people absolutely adore this set of acoustic duets with African pop star Ali Farka Toure and American country-roots legend Ry Cooder, although I find it a bit clunky. I think the main problem for me is that I've never been taken much with Farka Toure's music... It sounds great on paper -- a master musician from Mali who plays his own version of American blues -- but his records always leave me flat. Still, as I mentioned, there are plenty of other people who swear by this album, so take my gruff distain with a grain of salt.
Ali Farka Toure "Radio Mali" (Nonesuch/World Circuit, 1999)
Confirmed fans of Mali's famous blues griot should go ga-ga over this treasure trove of his earliest recordings, which spans 1970-1978. And, as someone who has a long-confirmed dislike of Ali Farka Toure, even I have to admit I enjoyed this record a lot. ...I'm not sure what it is about his other albums that put me off -- partly it's just that I find them a bit dry and boring. I suspect what I really don't like, though like is the sense that Farka Toure finds himself to be a master musician, and sounds a little stuffy because of it -- sort of like a West African version of Richard Thompson. Of course, I've never met the guy, and he could be a real sweetheart, but that's just the feeling I get from listening to his records. Not this one, though. Among other treats, this disc includes all the tracks off his first album, along with other tracks he made while working as an engineer at Mali's national radio station. What I hear in these earlier recordings is a sense of unsureness, an eagerness to succeed, without being sure how far his efforts will take him -- which comes off as much more endearing than his current status as a "world music legend." There's something to be said for going back to the roots -- even of a roots musician. Check it out!
Ali Farka Toure "Niafunke" (World Circuit/Hannibal, 1999)
Ali Farka Toure & Corey Harris "Mississippi To Mali" (Rounder, 2002)
Ali Farka Toure "Red & Green" (Nonesuch, 2005)
Fans of Malian guitarist Ali Farka Toure will rejoice at this double-disc reissue of two of his best-known albums, known by fans as the "Red" and "Green" records, originally released in 1979 and 1988. Remarkably, neither of these albums have been reissued on CD before now, despite their status as "world music" landmarks which helped bring Malian music into the global mainstream. Hailing from rural Niafunke, Mali, Toure took up the guitar in the 1950s, and worked in relative obscurity for decades before a friend encouraged him to submit a tape to the Paris-based Sonodisc label. He released several albums on Sonodisc, and in the late '80s began recording for the World Circuit label, which released the second of these albums in 1988. What's striking about both of these records is their rawness. Toure is often cited as a living link between West African tradtions and American blues music, and on many of his records, particularly the later ones, he accentuated these crosscurrents and similarities, often to a degree that could be seen as overly stylized or formulaic. On the "Red" album in particular, however, Toure's meandering guitar style seems more uniquely African and less boxed in by the John Lee Hooker-ization that became the hallmark of his sound; the percussive accompaniment is simpler and less "perfect" as well, an unadorned and heartfelt performance on the calabash, rattling alongside the improvisational guitar lines. Placed together, these two albums show both the evolution and continuity of a decade's worth of Toure's career, and help trace the development of a musical style that has helped reshape the world music scene.
Ali Farka Toure & Toumani Diabate "In The Heart Of The Moon" (Nonesuch, 2005)
A surpassingly beautiful set of instrumentals featuring Diabate on kora, and Ali Farka Toure providing remarkably restrained accompaniment. His bluesy tendencies are mostly on hold here, as the duo explores quiet, meditative byways, with gentle, insistent melodies and fabulous musicianship.
Ali Farka Toure "Savane" (Nonesuch, 2006)
African Music Index
World Music Index