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Music Review: Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté – Ali and Toumani

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Capturing the deepest sense of music, Ali and Toumani (World Circuit/Nonesuch Records), is an intimate recording with the master Malian singer and guitarist Ali Touré at the end of his life. Like a family gathered around their grandfather, listening to his stories, this recording sits the listener at the knee of Touré as he tells his life’s story through song.

This isn’t to say Ali had lost the chops that drew lovers of the Blues to him. Throughout the recording he shows he’s still got what it takes as he plays his guitar across a wide river of tempos and rhythms, effortlessly playing complex riffs with a timbre that sounds like a shimmering school of small fish. But for the man who became mayor of the West African town of Niafunke and spent his own money repairing the roads, these songs are about more than blindingly fast runs; this is Mr. Toure’s prayer for future generations.

The first track, “Ruby,” named after Toumani’s five year old daughter, is piece of gentle touch, as if the guitarist were playing in a darkened room, feeling the instrument resonate in his chest. With bone cancer taking its toll, Mr. Touré struggled with debilitating pain through the recordings. Perhaps that’s why the rest of the songs have a similarly intimate quality.

"Sabu Yerkoy" is Ali’s thanks to God for the blessings his country has received. "Warbe" is a song praising his countrymen who fight to protect the people. Several others, "Doudou" and "Be Mankan," are derived from on the ancient and traditional songs of the region and serve as beautiful lessons to a younger generation in danger of forgetting their history. "Sina Mory," the song Ali heard over three decades ago that inspired him to learn guitar, is based on an old Mande legend and played with delicately plucked clusters. Throughout the songs, the other musician in this Grammy Award winning duo, Toumani Diabat é, polyrhythmically plays his kora as the acknowledged master he is.

As the first African Bluesman to receive widespread popularity in his home country, Mr. Touré was often compared to John Lee Hooker in the Western press. Upon hearing Hooker’s music for the first time, Ali turned the comparison on its head, saying he heard West African roots in the American’s music, an African Diaspora connection Touré made in Martin Scorsese's 2003 documentary on the Blues, Feel Like Going Home. And those with ears attuned to the 12-bar, I-IV-V chord, 4/4 time of the Blues, will hear in the West African man’s music the rhythms and runs of the blues, as well as a hypnotic quality heard in the music of R.L. Burnside. Mr. Touré’s Niafunké (World Circuit WCD054), and Talking Timbuktu (Hannibal), an album he did with Ry Cooder, resonate strongly with the Mississippi Delta sound.

Building on three decades of wisdom and dedication, Ali and Toumani, scheduled to be released February 23rd, is an opportunity to sit at the knee of a master, listening to music of the highest level which connects continents and generations. Exiled from this world in 2006, this is Mr. Touré’s last gift to us.

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About Earl G. Lundquist