Frontier Psychiatrist

Frontier Revival vol. 5: Ali and Toumani

Posted on: July 1, 2010

For 25 years the late Ali Farka Touré has been the linchpin in the argument that the blues is an African art form. Since 1994’s Grammy-winning Talking Timbuktu with Ry Cooder, Touré’s simple, soulful acoustic guitar has illustrated how traditional west African music morphed into the American blues. In his 2003 documentary Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues, the director calls Touré’s tradition “the DNA of the blues.” In 2005, Touré participated in another collaboration, this one much closer to home. In the Heart of the Moon paired 71st generation kora player Toumani Diabaté with Touré in a dialectical masterpiece. Soon after the success of Moon, the two recorded another album. At that time, Touré had been diagnosed with bone cancer.  In 2006, Toure passed away at the age of  67. The results of this last effort have been released as Ali and Toumani (World Circuit Records).

Ali and Toumani, “Samba Geladio”

The overall feel of the record is meditative and tranquil. If you are looking for electric Afro pop sounds like Fela Kuti or Sunny Ade you won’t find them here. Instead, this album is an intimate acoustic conversation between two old friends: Touré on guitar and Diabaté on kora, a traditional harp fashioned from a gourd. The duo are mediated by upright bass and some light percussion. Most of the material is traditional African tunes, with several reprised favorites from past Touré records. As in much of Touré’s work, strong improvisational currents run between the two players. One  will repeat a riff while the other takes his time exploring over it, similar to the way jazz players “trade eights.” For some magical links to blues and Americana, listen to the first few minutes of “Samba Geladio” where  Touré takes the first phrase and bends it like B.B., inspiring Diabaté to do the same: no easy feat on a kora. The track “56” features a bass line and pulsing shuffle feel that may sound familiar; it’s more or less  “Don’t Be Cruel”.

Ali and Toumani, “56”

Knowing that Touré has been gone four years makes listening to this record a bittersweet experience. Here was an artist who was on the cusp of the globalization of music. Before pundits talked about the dialogue between African and American music, Ali did it anonymously in the dusty fields behind Timbuktu. In order to assuage our melancholy, we  dug up one of our favorite beat-up Touré records, Niafunke. A track from this 1999 release demonstrates just how electric he could be and reminds us that even though he is gone, his influence on music all over the world lives on.

Ali Farka Touré, “Ali’s Here.”

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2 Responses to "Frontier Revival vol. 5: Ali and Toumani"

[…] is the quintessential Malian chill-out track from Touré’s posthumous album. His mindful blues-tinged patterns and Diabaté’s tranquil kora plucking take my frazzled […]

[…] Sleigh Bells and Chromeo. (For recent ad hoc duos featured on FP, see: Jay-Z and Eminem, the late Ali Farka Touré’s and Toumani Diabaté and Nas and Damien Marley, and Talib Kweli and […]

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