Ali Farka Toure – The Source (World Circuit, 2018, reissue)
With our eyes firmly fixed on the far horizon we want the new. We want what’s next. We not only want the new, we demand it. We’ve boiled our lives down to frantically seeking out what’s the latest, what’s right around the next corner that we can grasp onto before discarding it by the wayside for the next thing, the latest stuff, the hottest new trend just beyond our reach. I bet there are more than a few out there who can barely tolerate leftovers from last night’s dinner.
I’m here to remind you that there are some things worth revisiting. I’m not talking about some somber commemorations of old disasters or old political scandals or the hairstyles of your youth. I am, of course, referring to a collection of songs, and not just any collection, but a powerhouse recording by the father of desert blues Ali Farka Toure and the recording The Source.
Originally put out in 1992 and the first recording for the Malian guitarist with his band Group Asco, The Source wasn’t Mr. Toure’s merry-go-round or his first recording. Recordings on Sonafric like Ali Toure Farka and Biennale and the Sonodisc/Esperance recordings Ali Farka Toure (Red) and Ali Farka Toure (Green) appeared before The Source. It was following the release of The River on the label World Circuit, where The Source bubbles up from the earth and Mr. Toure takes listeners on musical landscapes like Talking Timbuktu with Ry Cooder, Niafunke, Mississippi to Mali with Corey Harris, In the Heart of the Moon with Toumani Diabate and Ry Cooder, Savane and Ali and Toumani. Mr. Toure showed us The Source and we all listened.
As luck would have it, World Circuit has just announced the release of a special edition of The Source. Re-mixed, remastered from the original tapes, The Source is now out for the first time on vinyl with a 28-page color booklet. This is the kind of re-issue you all want. This is where going back is all just so very fine.
The Source is good. Not just the shove into your shoulder good. It isn’t even the smack up side the head good. This goes beyond even the roundhouse to the kisser good. No, this is the Jackie Chan kick to the head, lay you out on the floor, leaving you incapable of movement other than just to listen kind of good. And, trust me, you’ll want to just lay still as the opening strains “Goye Kur” worm their way into your brain. It’s all there on The Source – Mr. Toure on guitar and njarka violin, Afel Bocoum on vocals and Hamma Sankare on calabash and Oumar Toure on congas. Rolling rhythms, call-and-response vocals and some of the sweetest desert blues guitar licks make The Source savagely good.
Desert blues fans get the whole revisit tour with “Inchana Massina,” the low down magical bluesy “Roucky,” the sassy “Dofana” and tantalizing “Karaw.” “Hawa Dolo” makes everything all right with guest artist Taj Mahal, as do tracks like the sweetly worked “Cinquante Six,” the upbeat “I Go Ka” and the swinging “Mahini Me.” Closing is just as powerful with “Takamba.”
So, while you may have your gaze fixed on the horizon, going back to listen to The Source proves just as sweet.
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 was a popular part of his performances.
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 the United States of 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 is what he was until he died.
His recording career began in France in 1976, but that phase 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 the United States of 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.
Radio Mali was Ali Farka Toure’s first release after 1994’s Grammy Award–winning collaboration with Ry Cooder, Talking Timbuktu. Released in Europe by World Circuit in 1996, it is a lavishly packaged collection of vintage recordings made throughout the 1970s.
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 had 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 elected mayor of his home town of Niafunke. Ali was extremely loyal to his homeland and spent most of his time in the area, working on his farm. Ali’s key election promised to his constituents included tackling the malaria problem, cleaning up the region, and establishing a tree planting project.
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, a collaboration between Ali Farka Toure and another giant of Malian music, kora master Toumani Diabate.
The World Circuit crew set up a mobile studio in the Hotel Mande in Bamako, overlooking the Niger River and recorded In the Heart of the Moon 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 Cachaito Lopez on bass; and Joachim Cooder and Olalekan Babalola on percussion. In the Heart of the Moon won a world music Grammy in 2005.
Red and Green, released in 2005 is a double disc that collects essential vintage recordings from Ali Farka Toure, most of which were previously vinyl-only classic tracks. The Red album is the set that launched Ali’s career in the West; the Green album confirmed his status as one of Africa’s most important artists. Both albums are included complete and digitally remastered from the original tapes.
Touré recorded his last album, Savane, during his battle with bone cancer. The album, whose title translates to ‘savannah,’ reaffirms his connection with the traditional Songhai and Fulani music of northern Mali. He was joined by a small band of ngoni players, including two of his country’s best: Bassekou Kouyate and Mama Sissoko, who adapted their Mandé (southern Malian) playing to these northern styles.
Ali Farka Toure died March 7, 2006, from bone cancer. That year, World Circuit/Nonesuch released Savane.
To commemorate the tenth anniversary of his death, Ali Farka Touré was celebrated in his native Mali with a series of events over the week-end of March 5th, 2016. The events included an all-star concert in Bamako featuring Mali’s great stars, the final of a football (soccer) tournament in his honor (Touré was a huge football fan), the laying of the foundation stone for Rue Ali Farka Touré, an exhibition at the National Museum and various other events.
Ali Farka Toure’s legacy continues in the talented hands of his son, masterful guitarist Vieux Farka Toure.
BBC London DJ Charlie Gillett has, as they say, done it again. The latest in his annual series of world music compilations is two CDs worth of tracks that are each winners in their own right, each contributing to the fact that the whole thing is a collective winner.
Gillett has a knack for picking what’s likely to prick up the ears of newcomers to world music as well as having a good sense of what possibly jaded aficionados will want to hear. Thus we get a corking good mix of traditional music with progressive, unplugged with plugged and familiar artists (Oliver Mtukudzi, Mariza, Youssou N’Dour, Ali Farka Toure & Toumani Diabate, Lhasa) with those who are likely less so (Laye Sow, Dead Combo, Ivan Kupala, The Chehade Brothers).
Listening to these discs not only clues one in on what’s happening musically in the 28 countries represented, but what they glean from each other. You’re just as likely to hear something that’s, say, recognizably Senegalese, Brazilian or Russian as you are to hear techno stirred into traditional and collaborators from different countries (or even different continents) mixing it up).
Years of spinning music on the radio has given Gillett a shrewd sense of pacing and contrast, so transitions between tracks and styles manage not to be too jarring and can heighten appreciation of previously heard material. I was not, for example, very impressed with the recent CD by Romania’s Gypsy/techno Shukar Collective, though hearing one song from it amid the twists and turns of a larger melting pot was decidedly more pleasant. But no matter how this compilation washes over you, rest assured that a globetrotting sonic adventure of the highest order awaits.
London, UK – World Circuit has released the Red and Green albums by Malian musician Ali Farka Toure. Originally released on vinyl in 1984 and 1988, these albums have been digitally remastered from the original master tapes and are made available complete as a two CD set with full lyrics and sleeve notes.
In the 1970s Ali worked as a sound engineer for national Radio Mali and broadcasts of his performances earned him a formidable local reputation. In 1975 on the advice of a friend he sent a number of recordings he made there together with some photographs to the Sonodisc record company in Paris. This soon resulted in one of the first ever commercial releases of Malian music – a 12″ vinyl album titled Ali Toure ‘Farka’. Between 1975 and 1988 a total of
seven albums were released and material from the first five of these was compiled on the World Circuit release Radio Mali in 1996.
All seven albums were titled only with variations on the artist’s name and included no information other than a photograph and the song titles. Because of this, the last two albums released became known as the Red and Green albums due to the coloring of their original album sleeves.
The Sonodisc albums circulated mainly in France and Mali, but in the mid-1980s a few copies of the Red album found their way to the U.K where they found an enthusiastic reception from specialist radio shows and magazines. The album quickly gained great acclaim among the burgeoning world music public and people clamored for more information on this remarkable enigmatic artist who was hailed as the ‘John Lee Hooker of Africa’. As a result of this interest, Anne Hunt of World Circuit records went to Mali armed with a copy of the ‘Red’ album to seek out the mystery man to invite him to record and tour. She arranged for an appeal to be broadcast over Radio Mali and as luck would have it Ali was visiting the capital Bamako and he heard the broadcast. Thus began Ali’s very successful international career which has taken him round the world and resulted in the release of five acclaimed albums including the Grammy winning duet with Ry Cooder ‘Talking Timbuktu’.
The Red album contains the original versions of some of Ali’s most memorable songs. Playing acoustic guitar and singing in a number of local languages, Ali is accompanied by Hammer Sankare on backing vocals and calabash, one of the first times that instrument had ever been used on a record. The album opens intriguingly with Ali quoting the guitar introduction to Otis Redding’s version of ‘My Girl’. Released in 1988 the Green album sees Ali’s acoustic guitar and vocals alone or accompanied by calabash and ngoni (traditional four string guitar). These albums feature an updating of the traditional repertoires of the north of Mali which Ali has made unmistakably his own.
These albums have been out of print for and have remained in the archives for over ten years, and as Ali’s reputation grew so did that of these ‘lost’ classics. Alongside this CD issue Ali has also just re-released these albums on cassette for the local market due to renewed interest.
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