31 October 1939
7 March 2006 (aged 66)
Ali Farka Touré (October 31, 1939 – March 7, 2006) was a Malian singer and multi-instrumentalist, 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".
Ali Ibrahim "Farka" Touré was born in 1939 in the village of Kanau, on the banks of the Niger River in Gourma-Rharous Cercle 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!" Ethnically, he was part Songrai, part Fula.
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.
His first North American concert was in Harrison Hot Springs, British Columbia. 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 août, début septembre (Late August, Early September) directed in 1998 by Olivier Assayas. The song "Lasidan" was featured in the award winning documentary "Sharkwater" by Rob Stewart.
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". 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 been nominated for the BBC Radio 3 awards 2007.
Touré was ranked number 76 on Rolling Stone's list of "The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time" and number 37 on Spin magazine's "100 Greatest Guitarists of All 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.
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.
In the French film The Spanish Apartment (2002), two characters are seen playing air guitar to "Ai Du".
In the movie Unfaithful (2002), Diane Lane and Olivier Martinez slow dance to "Ai Du".
In the French film Irma Vep (1996), Maggie Cheung and Nathalie Richard ride an old motorcycle down the quay to Touré's song "Soukoura".
In the 2005 travel film Michael Palin: SAHARA, his music is heard in a scene about Nigerian nomads.
The World, a radio show distributed by Public Radio International, uses the song "Diaraby" as the theme to their Geoquiz. The song is a collaboration between Touré and Ry Cooder; the song is featured on their Talking Timbuktu album.
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)
1992 - The Source (World Circuit WCD030 / Hannibal 1375) with Taj Mahal
1994 - Talking Timbuktu (World Circuit WCD040 / Hannibal 1381) (with Ry Cooder)
1995 - The Rough Guide to West African Music (World Music Network RGNET-1002) (contributing artist)
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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