Ali Farka Toure life and biography

Ali Farka Toure picture, image, poster

Ali Farka Toure biography

Date of birth : 1939-10-31
Date of death : 2006-03-07
Birthplace : Timbuktu, Mali
Nationality : Malian
Category : Famous Figures
Last modified : 2012-02-27
Credited as : Singer, Guitarist, Grammy Award winner

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Ali Ibrahim “Farka” Touré was a Malian singer and guitarist, and one of the African continent’s most internationally renowned musicians. His music is widely regarded as representing a point of intersection of traditional Malian music and its North American cousin, the blues. Touré was ranked number 76 on Rolling Stone’s list of “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”.

Ali Farka Toure has often been referred to as a missing link between the blues and traditional music of West Africa. While Toure's guitar playing and singing have elements in common with both the blues and traditional African music, that statement is an oversimplification.

Ali Farka Toure is actually a mechanic by profession and considers his music secondary. While blues may be a solid foundation for Toure, he has forged a style all his own. Reviewing his album, The Source, Sing Out! stated that "his right-hand patterns would drive even the most accomplished bluesman screaming into the night and he seems less interested in singing about rambling, gambling, and fooling around than in chronicling the construction of a new irrigation system for the village of Dofana (a project that took him off the road and out of the studio for more than a year)."

Toure is a native of Niafenke, a small village in a remote region of Northern Mali. The first instrument he learned to play as a child was the single-stringed gurkel, a gourd covered with cowhide and fitted with a neck and rattles. This instrument, which is Toure's favorite, has ritual functions; he told Guitar Player, "the sky opens up, and knowledge and power descend on the player." However, he also warned that, "it attacks you fast. If you don't take certain measures, it can even case mental illness." Toure later taught himself the n'jarka, a single-string fiddle, and began playing the guitar in 1956 after seeing Guinean guitarist Keita Fodeba.

Understanding Ali Farka Toure's music requires an understanding of the differences between his African culture and the culture in which American and European musicians emerge. In some African regions, musical training is passed down from generation to generation among the griots. Author Bill Barlow defines griots as "talented musicians and folklorists designated to be the oral carriers of their people's culture...Griots preserved the history, traditions, and mores of their respective tribes and kinship groups through songs and stories." However, Toure is not a griot, so he is more ambivalent about playing music. He told Guitar Player in 1990, "My family weren't griots, so I never got any training. This is a gift I have; God doesn't give everybody the ability to play an instrument. Music is a spiritual thing--the force of sound comes from the spirit."

Ali Farka Toure has been performing primarily in public since the late 1970s, when he backed American blues legend John Lee Hooker on a tour of France. He's had several album releases in Europe before his self-titled American debut. A Village Voice article illustrated the difference between the two guitarists' music, "[Toure] doesn't crank out one-chord boogies like his idol. It's as if he merely hints at the possibility before meandering off in other directions." A Guitar Player writer eloquently debunked the "missing link" hype with the statement, "While Ali Farka Toure's song point up the shared lineage of the music of the Mississippi Delta and the African savanna, the explanation for these similarities is not nearly as mysterious as some ethnomusicologists would prefer. Toure, like many other Africans, heard [John Lee] Hooker, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, and others on dance-hall jukeboxes."

With his 1992 album The Source, Ali Farka Toure began to gain commercial and artistic recognition. It topped the Billboard World Music chart for eleven weeks, helped in part by guest appearances from American bluesman Taj Mahal and guitarist Ry Cooder. In a Billboard profile, Toure's manager Nick Gold spoke of the logistics involved with recording him. Ali Farka Toure does not have a telephone, so Gold sends faxes to Mali's capital, Bamako, which are helicoptered to Toure's village. As far as getting other musicians, Gold said it was difficult "because the musicians live in various parts of the north of Mali, and travel is not easy. You have to send a messenger out and hope that people will show up."

During a brief American tour in 1994 with Ry Cooder, the rapport between the two guitarists was such that they completed an album together in four days. The result, Talking Timbuktu, was the 1994 Down Beat Critics' Poll's "Beyond Album of the Year" Award. Sing Out! praised Cooder's production on the album: "As a producer, Cooder makes few of the mistakes common to this type of venture. He does not try to alter Toure's playing in any way, but takes the songs and builds arrangements around them. And his guitar playing does not intrude."

Ry Cooder described the making of Talking Timbuktu to Guitar Player; "You'd think Ali's just goofing and jamming, but they're all tunes, because these musicians don't jam. Americans do, but Africans don't. They don't just blow; they play a song. And he says his melodies are ancient melodies and they have a purpose." A typical track from Talking Timbuktu is "Gomni," a song about an individual's place in the community. Toure describes it in the liner notes, "You have to work hard to achieve a sense of well being. You should dedicate your life to the work which brings you happiness. When the community needs you, you should not turn a blind eye. Every job has its worth and everyone should make their contribution."

In 2002 he appeared with Black American blues and reggae performer Corey Harris, on an album called Mississippi to Mali (Rounder Records). Toure and Harris also appeared together in Martin Scorsese's 2003 documentary film Feel Like Going Home, which traced the roots of blues back to its genesis in West Africa. The film was narrated by Harris and features Ali’s performances on guitar and njarka.
In 2004 Touré became mayor of Niafunké and spent his own money grading the roads, putting in sewer canals and fuelling a generator that provided the impoverished town with electricity.

In September 2005, he released the album In the Heart of the Moon, a collaboration with Toumani Diabaté, for which he received a second Grammy award. His last album, Savane, was posthumously released in July 2006. It was received with wide acclaim by professionals and fans alike and has been nominated for a Grammy Award in the category “Best Contemporary World Music Album”[citation needed]. The panel of experts from the World Music Chart Europe (WMCE), a chart voted by the leading World Music specialists around Europe, chose Savane as their Album of the Year 2006, with the album topping the chart for three consecutive months (September to November 2006).The album has also been listed as No. 1 in the influential Metacritic’s “Best Albums of 2006” poll, and No. 5 in its all-time best reviewed albums. Ali Farka Touré has also recently been nominated for the BBC Radio 3 awards 2007.

On March 7, 2006, the Ministry of Culture of Mali announced his death at age 66 in Bamako from bone cancer, against which he had been battling for some time. His record label, World Circuit, said that he recorded several tracks with his son, Vieux Farka Touré, for Vieux’s debut album which was released in late 2006.

1976 - Ali Touré Farka (Sonafric 50016-LP)
1976 - Spécial « Biennale du Mali » (Sonafric 50020-LP)
1978 - Biennale (Sonafric 50032-LP)
1979 - Ali Touré Farka (Sonafric 50060-LP)
1980 - Ali Touré dit Farka (Sonafric 50085-LP)
1984 - Ali Farka Touré (Red) (Sonodisc/Esperance 5558)
1988 - Ali Farka Touré (Green) (Sonodisc/Esperance 8448)
1988 - Ali Farka Touré (World Circuit WCD007 / Mango 9826)
1990 - African Blues (Shanachie 65002) (originally released as Ali Farka Touré (Green))
1990 - The River (World Circuit WCD017 / Mango 9897)
1993 - The Source (World Circuit WCD030 / Hannibal 1375) with Taj Mahal
1994 - Talking Timbuktu (World Circuit WCD040 / Hannibal 1381) (with Ry Cooder)
1996 - Radio Mali (World Circuit WCD044 / Nonesuch 79569) (remastered selections of original albums from 1975 through 1980)
1999 - Niafunké (World Circuit WCD054 / Hannibal 1443)
2002 - Mississippi to Mali (Rounder B0000DJZA1)(with Corey Harris)
2004 - Red&Green (World Circuit WCD070 / Nonesuch 79882) (remastered original albums from 1984 and 1988)
2005 - In the Heart of the Moon (World Circuit WCD072 / Nonesuch 79920) (with Toumani Diabaté and Ry Cooder)
2006 - Savane (World Circuit WCD075 / Nonesuch 79965)
2010 - Ali and Toumani - (World Circuit/Nonesuch Records) with Toumani Diabaté

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