By Sweet Sound of Sunrise
Born on the banks of the Niger River in Kanau, Mali in 1939, Ali Farka Toure was the only one of ten sons born to his mother who survived infancy. His parents disapproved of his intentions to play music because it was traditionally an inherited profession, but he persisted. He did not achieve fame quickly – he broke out onto the African and world music scene with his self-titled debut album in 1988. However, his hypnotic guitar and a singing style comparable to that of American blues legend John Lee Hooker was very successful, and he began touring extensively in Europe and North America.
His second album, 1994’s Talking Timbuktu won him a Grammy Award, but once again he did not release an album for several years, retreating to his rice farm. In 1999 he released Niafunke, named after the village in which he was raised and where the album was recorded. In 2004, Ali Farka Toure became mayor of the village, but his musical career was not yet over. He collaborated with Malian musician Toumani Diabate on the 2005 album In the Heart of the Moon, which won him another Grammy award. A few weeks later, on March 7, 2006, he died from bone cancer. Despite having always considered himself primarily a farmer and not a musician, he is perhaps one of the most widely known African musicians in the West, and was named #76 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.
This is a clip from the 1998 documentary River of Sand, which was hosted by Bruce Cockburn and features many musicians from Mali, including Ali Farka Toure:
Here is a live performance from 2003’s Festival in the Desert: