Toure’s Music Lives On

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(Ali Farka---you can just tell this man loved life. No?)


Ali Farka Toure, the Malian legend, was larger than music.

He died on March 26 2006 and was accorded a posthumous Commandeur de l'Ordre National du Mali, the country's highest honor, and a state funeral attended by all the country's senior politicians and major music stars as well as thousands of ordinary people.
Listening to Ali F Toure's music is a reminder of where blues music originated. His blues style was unique and hypnotic. He usually sang in one of several African languages, mostly Songhay, Fulfulde and Tamasheq. 

His last album is Savane, which was the third of a trilogy of albums recorded at Bamako's Hotel Mand. The first of those albums was In the heart of the moon, a duet album with Toumani Diabate, another of Mali's well-known musicians—which won a GRAMMY award making the Malian the only African to have received two such prestigious honors.

His first Grammy win was for the album Talking Timbuktu, a collaboration with Ry Cooder, which served to confirm Ali's status as an artist of international repute. Sadly Ali Farka Toure did not live to see the release of the last album Savane, an album, which he said, was his best ever—no one can argue about that.

The album is simply breathtaking, and exhibits a variety of styles. It is filled with tension and passion that flowed out of Africa's best-known blues guitarist. Being of noble birth, Ali should never have taken up music. He was born in 1939 in Gourmararusse, in the Timbuktu region of Mali, into the noble Sorhai family. His family disapproved of his chosen calling because the musician’s profession is normally inherited one in Malian society—one can’t just “play� music.

So he taught himself how to play Guita, or the gurkel, a single string African guitar that he chose because of its power to draw out the spirits. He also taught himself the njarka, a single string fiddle that became a popular part of his performance to the end.

Toure developed another concern—that young Malians didn't know enough about their country's extraordinary and rich musical traditions. This led him to set up an ngoni band with local musicians including Bassekou Kouyat. Savane is the result of this project.

The opening track, on Savane, Erdi, works well in determining the direction of the album. This song is raw with that distinct ngoni sound. It also featured the njarka. He follows up with a lighter track, Yer Bounda Farashows, off his guitar skills. It is a bluesy and melodic peace. Beto, the third track has a more upbeat rhythm to it, again his guitar riffs are driving this song, and it features on Sax, Pee Wee Ellis, who has played with James Brown.

which is the title track, comes next. Toure shows some versatility here, giving something close to a Reggae rhythm to this track. Another memorable track is Machengoidi, which begins with wailing guitar, sounds like Toure's answer to the blues from the fields of Mississippi delta. 

This all together a very decent collection of Malian songs. If you are to buy just one album from Toure then this clear is the one to pick, for its diversity and passion that came out of Africa's greatest blues musician. This album was released on July 17 2006, four months after Toure died. His legacy will surely live on for many decades to come. It is as if he wanted to make that certain before he died.


Ocen Allimadi is The Black Star News’ music editor. Send all review materials including CDs, tapes and DVDs to Ocen Allimadi, 16 Curran House, Lucan Place, London SW10 3PG U.K.

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