Personalities | Ali Farka Touré | Worlds Apart | Guitar Heroes

Sometimes called ‘the African John Lee Hooker’, Ali ‘Farka’ Touré (1939–2006) was a Malian singer and guitarist, and one of Africa’s most renowned musicians. Many consider his music to be a bridge between traditional Malian music and its presumed descendant, the blues.

The interplay of rhythm and sound in Touré’s music was similar to John Lee Hooker’s hypnotic blues style. Both singers combined a deep-voice delivery with mid-tempo, foot-stomping rhythms, often with minimal accompaniment.

Ali Ibrahim ‘Farka’ Touré was born in 1939 in the Muslim village of Kanau on the banks of the Niger River. His nickname, ‘Farka’, chosen by his parents, means ‘donkey’, an animal admired for its tenacity and stubbornness. He was ethnically tied to the Songrai (Songhai) and Peul peoples of northern Mali. Touré only occasionally sang in English and usually performed in one of several African languages, mostly Songhay, Fulfulde, Tamasheq or Bambara, as on his breakthrough album, Ali Farka Touré (1989), which established his reputation in the world-music community. After its release he toured often in North America and Europe, and recorded frequently, sometimes with contributions from Taj Mahal and members of the Chieftains.

After retreating to his homeland to tend his farm, he was persuaded to record 1994’s Talking Timbuktu, a popular collaboration with Ry Cooder. Touré found success taxing and again retreated to his homeland. He did not release a record in America for five years afterwards. Finally, in 1999 Touré released Niafunké, an album of more traditional African rhythms. Then, once again, Touré went on hiatus, becoming mayor of Niafunké and spending his own money to improve the impoverished town. In 2005 Nonesuch issued Red & Green, two albums Touré recorded in the early Eighties, packaged as a two-disc set. Also in 2005, he released the album In The Heart Of The Moon, a collaboration with Toumani Diabaté, for which he received a second Grammy Award.

Touré’s last album, Savane, was released posthumously in 2006. It topped the chart for three consecutive months and was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category Best Contemporary World Music Album. In 2006 Touré died at the age of 66 from bone cancer.

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