Ali Farka Touré: “Soukora”

Ali Farka Touré, an African musician and one of the best guitarists the world has ever seen, was born on October 31, 1939.  Touré was born in the village of Kanau, on the banks of the Niger River in the northwestern Malian region of Tombouctou.

Touré became known as “the African John Lee Hooker.” His musical styles had many similarities to the American blues man.  But the similarities likely came from the underlying connections between African music and the blues.

I first discovered Touré’s music in the 1990s from the album Talking Timbuktu (1994), where he was joined by Ry Cooder. Earlier, Touré had retired from music to concentrate on his rice farm.  But his producer convinced him to make the album.

Talking Timbuktu went on to win the Grammy for Best World Music Album. Allmusic notes that on the album Ali Farka Touré is “singing in 11 languages and playing acoustic and electric guitar, six-string banjo, njarka, and percussion, while teaming smartly with an all-star cast.”

My favorite track off of Talking Timbuktu is “Soukora,” which Touré wrote. I do not even know what the song is about.  But the guitar strings hypnotize me into thinking I have a sense of the music I might hear in heaven.

In this short version of “Soukora,” Sékou Bembeya Diabaté joins Ali Farka Touré on the song.

Touré won another Grammy in 2006 for his album  In the Heart of the Moon, recorded with kora player Toumani Diabate.  But Touré never got to accept the award.  He died in his sleep from bone cancer on March 7, 2006.

He left a beautiful music legacy to the world that many are still discovering. Happy birthday wherever you are.

Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    A Humbug Pill, a Dose of Dope, And a Great Big Bill

    On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast near New Orleans, Louisiana. The hurricane and its after effects devastated the city and surrounding areas along the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

    The following year, Bruce Springsteen visited New Orleans and performed his version of the song “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live.” He used the first verse from the original by Blind Alfred Reed. But then he added three new verses that focused on the situation in New Orleans.

    Springsteen’s lyrics criticize the federal response to the emergency, invoking President George W. Bush‘s trip to the area: “He took a look around, gave a little pep talk, said ‘I’m with you’ then he took a little walk.” At his performance in New Orleans, he introduced the song with a reference to the “Bystander-in-Chief.”

    Springsteen released his version of “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live” on We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (American Land Edition) (2006). Below is the original version of the song by Blind Alfred Reed, who wrote “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live” in response to the Great Depression: “When we pay our grocery bill,/ We just feel like making our will.”

    Reed, who lived from 1880 to 1956, recorded his version in New York City on December 4, 1929, less than two months after the stock market crash. Check it out.

    Ry Cooder also recorded a variation on Reed’s original version, releasing it on his self-titled album in 1970. Musically, one can hear how Cooder’s version apparently influenced Springsteen’s version. Check out this video of Cooder’s 1974 recording of “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live” at The Record Plant in Sausalito, California.

    Unfortunately, it seems like we will always need songs like these. Fortunately, we have artists like Reed, Cooder, and Springsteen to keep challenging us.

    Photo of Hurricane Katrina via NASA (Public Domain). Leave your two cents in the comments.

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