Ali Farka Toure, 1939-2006

Ali Farka ToureMonday we lost a cultural treasure and a generous human being: Ali Farka Touré, a son of Mali, and one of the world’s great musicians died in Bamako, Mali. He was born in Timbuktu in 1939, and worked as a docker on the river Niger and a driver for Mali’s national radio and television company, ORTM. In 1980, his musical talent was discovered by the BBC and in 1994 he recorded a Grammy-award winning album with Ry Cooder. His success with his haunting blues guitar made him the king of desert blues.

When he won his first Grammy award, he even refused to travel to the United States to collect his prize, saying:

“I don’t know what a Grammy means but if someone has something for me, they can come and give it to me here in Niafunke, where I was singing when nobody knew me.”

He then threw himself into farming, fishing and raising cattle in his home town.

Later, he became mayor of Niafunke in a bid to use some of his wealth and international connections for the good of his people.
Obituary: Ali Farka Toure, BBC, Tuesday, 7 March 2006

I discovered Touré a few years ago, and was immediately hooked. Even listening to his music at the record store I could immediately feel the hot breath of the Sahara emerging from his haunting blues guitar. His music got me interested in the rich music of Mali and I began to explore classical kora music as well. So I was very excited when I discovered In the Heart of the Moon – his recent collaboration with Toumani Diabate, one of the greatest masters of the kora. This is going to be one of my favorite musical recordings ever. Right next to Svyatoslav Richter‘s austere interpretation of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and Miles Davis’ classic In a Silent Way.

Touré’s talent and generosity, and his smiles, will be missed by many. He has made this world a better place, and I am grateful for it. May he rest in peace.

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