Songhai Blues: Homage to Ali Farka Toure (World Music Network/Riverboat Records TUGCD1054, 2009)
The words were right there, in smallish print on the cover of Ali Farka Toure’s final album Savane in 2006: “The King of the desert ‘blues’ singers.” It was a statement of absolute truth, yet the fact that such a key word of it was in quotation marks was perhaps meant to show that use of the word “blues” to describe the music of the late Malian great was an oversimplification, a cliché, a necessary marketing term or all three. But the label has stuck, the West African origins of blues music are undeniable and a sharp new release by Samba Toure is here to provide further testimony to the connection.
Samba Toure was not a relative of Ali Farka Toure but did play in his band for a spell, and as a result the guitar style he displays on the tribute CD Songhai Blues (there’s that word again) is very similar to that of the man who was an inspiration and mentor. On both acoustic and electric axe Samba picks and strums in the same alternately smooth and gut-wrenching manner that was one factor in getting Ali’s music tagged as blues in the first place, and the supporting instrumentation of ngoni lute, njarka violin, bass, djembe and calabash is likewise a nod to the sort of accompaniment heard on the last few Farka Toure albums.
But Samba isn’t just an imitator. His lyrical observations of Malian life are his own, his voice is a shade higher and more reedy and even an innovator like Ali Farka Toure never harnessed the power of the tamani (talking drum) as thunderously as Samba does on a song named for that instrument.
While Samba Toure’s artistry will certainly be familiar to anyone who loved the music of that other Toure, be assured that this heartfelt homage has ample amounts of originality, raw beauty and yes, the sort of pure feeling that’s the African blues through and through.
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