Ali Farka Touré, 1939–2006

Ali Farka Touré didn’t like being called the king of Malian blues, since he often pointed out that the music he championed was much older and deeper than its African-American offspring. Non-Malians started tuning in to his mesmerizing fingerpicked guitar and salt-of-the-earth multilingual vocals when Nick Gold of World Circuit Records and others “discovered” him in the late ’80s and released now-classic albums like The River and The Source. After he won a Grammy for Talking Timbuktu, the 1994 crossover joint with Ry Cooder, Touré tired of touring and returned to his beloved Niafunke, the Niger River town where he farmed, supported young musicians and spread his modest wealth around the community. In recent years, Touré’s music took a profound, reinvigorated turn. In the Heart of the Moon, his hauntingly beautiful duet set with kora master Toumani Diabate, recorded on a Bamako hotel rooftop, earned him another Grammy this year. Touré believed the unseen spirit world was always close at hand and communicated with his ancestors through the mystic. Last week, he made his final passage: After suffering from bone cancer, he died in his sleep on March 7 at his home in Niafunke. When Savane, the album he finished before his death, comes out later this year, Touré’s dark-blue gravitas will envelop us from beyond the veil.

— Tom Cheyney


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