Ali Farka Toure was born in 1939 in Gourmararusse (in the Timbuktu region), Mali, into the noble Sorhai family. Being of noble birth, he should never have taken up music. His family disapproved because the musician profession is normally inherited in Malian society and the right to play belongs to the musician families. However, being a man of determination and independence, once he decided to take up music, there was no stopping him.
Ali Farka Toure took up the guitar at the age of ten, but it wasn't until about age 17 that he really got a handle on the instrument. In 1950 he began playing the gurkel, a single string African guitar that he chose because of its power to draw out the spirits. He also taught himself the njarka, a single string fiddle that is today a popular part of his performance. Then in 1956, Ali Farka Toure saw a performance by the great Guinean guitarist Keita Fodeba in Bamako. He was so moved that he decided then and there to become a guitarist. Teaching himself, Alila Farka Toure adapted traditional songs using the techniques he had learned on the gurkel.
During a visit to Bamako in the late 1960's, artists such as Ray Charles, Otis Redding and most importantly John Lee Hooker introduced Ali Farka Toure to African-American music. At first, he thought that Hooker was playing Malian music, but then realized that this music coming from America had deep African roots. Ali Farka Toure was also inspired by Hooker's strength as a performer and began to incorporate elements into his own playing. During those years Ali Farka Toure composed, sang and performed with the famous Troupe 117, a group created by the Malian government after the country's independence.
Ali Farka Toure trained as a sound engineer, a profession he practiced until 1980, when he had saved enough money to become a farmer, which he is to this day. His recording career began in France in 1976, but that phase of it ended poorly, as Toure was never properly compensated. For years he followed a successful career in West Africa adapting traditional songs and rhythms in ten languages from Mali's enormous cultural wealth. This career was combined with a life rooted in his village. While touring widely in Africa and also occasionally in Europe and America, Toure preferred the security of his village life, family and friends, crops and livestock
In 1990, Toure abandoned music in order to tend to his farm, in his native Timbuktu. His producer managed to convince him otherwise and to return to his guitar. Two years later, he recorded the famous CD Talking Timbuktu with American guitarist Ry Cooder. The album won a Grammy award.
Despite the success with Talking Timbuktu, Ali Farka Toure wasn't willing to leave his rice farm in Mali to record an album. Producer Nick Gold had to set up the equipment in an abandoned brick hall in Niafunke, Mali, using portable equipment and gasoline generators to compensate for the fact that Toure's hometown has no power lines. The crew had to wait till Farka Toure was done with his chores and ready to play the guitar. Farka Toure said: "We were in the middle of the landscape which inspired the music and that in turn inspired myself and the musicians. . . . In the West, perhaps this music is just entertainment and I don't expect people to understand."
In 2004 Ali Farka Toure was appointed mayor of the Niafunke region of Mali. Ali has remained extremely loyal to his homeland and spends most of his time in the area, working on his farm. Ali's key election promises to his constituents included tackling the malaria problem, cleaning up the region, and establishing a tree planting project.
In January of 2004, World Circuit's Nick Gold was recording Ali Farka Toure's first album in five years. The guitarist and his longtime producer from World Circuit invited Toumani Diabate to join Toure for one track: the traditional Malian song, "Kaira." Without rehearsal, the duo improvised a version of the piece and quickly began recording another. The collaboration was so successful Nick Gold suggested they create an entire album together.
In 2004, Ali Farka Toure was elected mayor of his home town of Niafunke. In July of 2004, Nick Gold took his World Circuit team and their longtime engineering collaborator Jerry Boys (Buena Vista Social Club) to Bamako, Mali to record In the Heart of the Moon. They set up a mobile studio in the Hotel Mande in Bamako, overlooking the Niger River and recorded the album there in three two-hour sessions. Drawing on a body of traditional songs familiar to both men, Toure and Diabate again began without rehearsing together beforehand. Only one song required a second take-because it had been interrupted by a rainstorm.
In the Heart of the Moon was the first of a trilogy of albums Nick Gold's label recorded at the Hotel Mande. The record also includes subtle contributions from Ry Cooder on piano and guitar; Sekou Kante and Cacha?to L?pez on bass; and Joachim Cooder and Olalekan Babalola on percussion. In the Heart of the Moon won a world music Grammy in 2005.
Ali Farka Toure died March 7, 2006, from bone cancer.
Ali Ibrahim “Farka” Touré (October 31, 1939 – March 7, 2006) 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. The belief that the latter is historically derived from the former is reflected in Martin Scorsese’s often quoted characterization of Touré’s tradition as constituting "the DNA of the blues". Touré was ranked number 76 on Rolling Stone’s list of “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”.
He was born in 1939 in the village of Kanau, on the banks of the Niger River in the cercle of Gourma Rharous in the northwestern Malian region of Tombouctou. His family moved to the nearby village of Niafunké when he was still an infant. He was the tenth son of his mother but the only one to survive past infancy. “The name I was given was Ali Ibrahim, but it’s a custom in Africa to give a child a strange nickname if you have had other children who have died”, Touré was quoted as saying in a biography on his Record Label, World Circuit Records. His nickname, “Farka”, chosen by his parents, means “donkey”, an animal admired for its tenacity and stubbornness: “Let me make one thing clear. I’m the donkey that nobody climbs on!” He was descended from the ancient military force known as the Arma, and was ethnically tied to the Songrai (Songhai) and Peul peoples of northern Mali.
As the first African bluesman to achieve widespread popularity on his home continent, Touré was often known as “the African John Lee Hooker”. Musically, the many superpositions of guitars and rhythms in his music were similar to John Lee Hooker’s hypnotic blues style. He usually sang in one of several African languages, mostly Songhay, Fulfulde, Tamasheq or Bambara as on his breakthrough album, Ali Farka Touré, which established his reputation in the world music community. 1994’s Talking Timbuktu, a collaboration with Ry Cooder, sold promisingly well in Western markets, but was followed by a hiatus from releases in America and Europe. He reappeared in 1999 with the release of Niafunké, a more traditional album focusing on African rhythms and beats. Touré was the mentor and uncle of popular Malian musician Afel Bocoum.
Some of Ali Farka Touré’s songs and tunes have been used in different programmes, films and documentaries . For instance, his guitar riff on the song “Diaraby”, from the album Talking Timbuktu, was selected for the Geo-quiz segment of The World PRI-BBC program, and was retained by popular demand when put to a vote of the listeners. This song is likewise used in 1998 as a soundtrack for the film L’Assedio (Besieged) by the Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci. His songs Cinquante six, Goye Kur and Hawa Dolo from the album The Source are also used as a soundtrack in the French film Fin aoűt, début septembre ("Late August, Early September") directed in 1998 by Olivier Assayas.
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 Scorcese'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”. 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)
1989 - Ali Farka Touré (World Circuit WCD007 / Mango 9826)
1990 - African Blues (Shanachie 65002)
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)
A Thorough Discography :
Ali Farka Toure
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