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.
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