Ali Farka Toure

Ali Farka Toure

Ali Farka Toure was one of the most internationally successful West African musicians of the ’90s. He was described as “the African John Lee Hooker“. There is a lot of truth to the comparison. The guitarist, who also played other instruments such as calabash and bongos, shared with Hooker and other American bluesmen like Lightnin’ Hopkins, a predilection for low-pitched vocals and midtempo, foot-stomping rhythms, often playing with minimal accompaniment. Ali Farka Toure’s delivery was less abrasive than Hooker’s, and the general tone of his material somewhat sweeter. Toure sang in several languages and only occasionally in English. As he once said that his songs were “about education, work, love, and society.”

Ali Farka Toure was approaching the age of 50 when he came to the attention of the burgeoning world music community in the West via a self-titled album in the late ’80s. In the following years Ali Farka Toure toured often in North America and Europe, and recorded frequently, sometimes with contributions from Taj Mahal and members of the Chieftains. In 1990, Toure retreated from music entirely to devote himself to his rice farm, but was convinced by his producer to again pick up the guitar to record 1994’s Talking Timbuktu, on which he was joined by Ry Cooder. It was his most well-received effort to date, earning him a Grammy for Best World Music Album, but it was also proof that not all Third World-First World collaborations have to dilute their non-Western elements to achieve wide acceptance. Ali Farka Toure didn’t release a record on American shores for five years afterward that. He finally broke the silence in 1999 with Niafunké, which discarded the collaborative approach in favor of a return to his musical roots. Once again, Toure stepped away from the limelight. In 2005, perhaps partly to keep his name familiar to music lovers, he released two albums on one CD. In the Heart of the Moon was released in 2005.

Ali Farka Toure died on March 7, 2006, from the bone cancer that he had been battling for years. However, he was able to complete one last album before passing. His final album, Savane was released posthumously in July 2006.

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