Magazine article Guitar Player

Ali Farka Toure, 1939-2006

Magazine article Guitar Player

Ali Farka Toure, 1939-2006

Article excerpt

THIS PAST MARCH, MALIAN SINGER AND guitarist Ali Farka Toure died at age 66 from bone cancer. Much has been written about his remarkable rise from humble beginnings in the northern desert country of West Africa, to international fame as one of his continent's most beloved musicians. Toure's career raised consciousness--and sometimes controversy--about the African roots of American blues. For some, Toure's fascination with American blues recordings during the '70s made his claim that his own music was 100-percent African seem dubious, and even arrogant. But these squabbles mask a deeper truth. Whatever the precise genesis of Toure's style, it is both unique and monumental--neither an imitation of foreign sounds, nor a straightforward rendering of tradition.

Toure's small but universally excellent body of recordings is a priceless legacy. All one has to do is listen to songs such as "Inchana Massina" or "Dofana" (both from The Source, released in 1992) to understand that, although Toure is using a minor pentatonic scale and a vaguely blues-like shuffle, his phrasing and articulation are monstrously subtle and sophisticated. Just tune your low-E string up to G--the common practice among northern Malian guitarists--pop a capo on the third fret, and try to play along with either of these numbers. You'll soon gain an appreciation of Toure's masterful ability to elide 4/4 and 6/8 time, and his deeply affecting transference of ancient African melodic ornamentations onto guitar. Facility with hammer-ons and pull-offs won't get you close to Toure's melodies, any more than the ability to roll your "r's" means you can speak Spanish. …

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