Sunday, May 29, 2011

Ali Farka Touré

I'm listening to new albums, including Vieux Farka Touré's latest record. Vieux is definitely a great artist in his own right. I can't help, though, that my mind wanders to his father who (almost) single-handedly changed the course of my life.

Ali and Vieux
I wrote the tribute below in 2007 on my page on I left that so-called social network when they decided everybody, except residents of the 3 richest countries in the world, would have to pay for the radio! Impeccable logic for a site that owes it's very existence to global netizens! This is my last activity there; I'm the deleted commenter.

To my surprise, the tribute was reproduced by several sites ... with credits and all! It now seems it's nowhere to be found. Reason why I'm reposting it here verbatim, with minor adjustments.

Tribute to Ali Farka Touré

This is my very first journal entry, though I've been using since 2005. For reasons you may understand at the end of this piece, it's dedicated to Ali Farka Touré.

In 1980, I was traveling to Mogadishu - the capital of Somalia - to start studying Chemical Engineering. We stopped to satisfy our howling bellies. Instead of savouring the delicious food, my whole attention was captivated by a soulful tune oozing from a fragile recorder on the counter (original of track 1). Nobody present knew the name of the maestro but the owner of the restaurant was, apparently, impressed by my enthusiasm. Upon departure, she gave me a tape saying something like "...and the dessert is free of charge for our enthusiastic youngster..."! This was one of the most valuable presents ever given to me, though I received many, because it later turned out it was one of Ali Farka Touré's records and he hardly left my players ever since. Heartfelt thanks to that generous lady whose name I've never known!

1. Kadi Kadi (jamming in the tent at the Festival in the Desert, 2003-- with Andy Kershaw of the BBC providing enthusiastic "background vocals")*

Kady Kady

Camels, love and music
Ali Farka Touré's music needs no introduction. He is widely recognized and appreciated by fans, fellow musicians and critics alike. Concerning the musician, let me just limit myself to the following observations:

'Music is, just like her sisterly love, a matter of feeling and sensuality' sings the Somali camel driver. This is typical of AFT, who composed and performed his music with a lot of love and sensual feeling. His tunes are, furthermore, so intriguingly and delicately interwoven that they have the power to procure the audience with loads of pleasure & wisdom, happiness & grief, trance & spiritual serenity...

These contrasting features in his music make me often feel injected with a lot of joyful physical & mental exercise, hurling or sometimes depositing me gently in, say, an intense 'dance-and-don't-forget-to-think circle'. This is, in my view, one of the the reasons why countless people around the world are touched, moved, thrilled and/or uplifted by his artistic acrobatics, while others are even inspired and influenced by his style.

The master musician is, hence, quite popular and valued. On the other hand when I read about him, it often dawns on me how little is known and sometimes misconceived about other important aspects of his life. This is the primary reason why I've put pen to paper to render my take on another side of AFT's work, while at the same time expressing my admiration for and gratitude to an extraordinary man.

Honey is never sweet...
AFT was, indeed, a giant of a musician. What is lesser known is that he was also a jewel of a man: A passionate and relentless advocate for human rights and environmental protection on individual, local and global levels. His doors were always open for those who sought hospitality. Moreover, instead of settling down in a luxurious villa on the shores of an alluring overseas Riviera, he decided to confront the harsh circumstances on the banks of his beloved river - The Niger, an indispensable source of life for Mali and other West African countries. To my knowledge, his album "The Source" alludes to this river, though it's frequently purported that the title refers to the African roots of the Blues. Below, a multidimensional footage containing, among others, images of the river Niger and Ali's district of Niafunké as well as desert blues, the music genre AFT is credited to have initiated. The title of the first track by Afel Bocoum & Alkibar is ... "Niger" from the album of the same name!

True to his frequently cited quote, namely "honey is never sweet in the mouth of just one person", he literally shared his earnings, pain and pleasure with his people. In track 2, for example,  he expresses the necessity of sharing with the needy as well as the primordiality of community building and this mirrors one of the central themes in his lyrics, i.e. working hard for the benefit of all.

2. Ali's Here

In line with this communal attitude, he used his fame and spent almost all his money on local cultural and development projects. Niafunké, where the illiterate (!) Ali was the cherished mayor, is nowadays transformed into a green patch in the middle of the Sahara desert; the district is self-sufficient and the socio-economic situation of the whole region is blooming. During the civil war in Mali he sang, as a token for peace and unity, in about ten local languages and sometimes in three languages in one song; the languages of the tribes who were fighting one another....!

On a broader level, he was dedicated to his own motto: Where there is injustice in the world, music must point it out! In his songs and also at many public occasions, he stood up for those who couldn’t fend for themselves - humans as well as nature (tracks 3 to 6). His lyrics are, accordingly, pregnant with messages of peace & love, respect & decency, self-sufficiency & solidarity, individual freedom & social responsibility, protection of human rights & defending our endangered and priceless environment!

3. Roucky

4. Keito (Live with Ry Cooder at Edmonton Folk Festival, 1995)

From this perspective, it's crystal clear that Ali was extremely conscious of the problems of our world. As the saying goes, the vantage of wisdom comes with age; this might also be the case with AFT. However, Ali was in my opinion an unusual world citizen right from his early youth; his lyrics from the 70's give many indications of his social awareness. He passed into action as soon as he acquired the necessary means, gradually developping into who he later became: A committed activist, an accomplished philanthropist, a magnanimous soul, a charismatic inspirer.

5. Hilly Yoro (Live at Estival Jazz Festival, Lugano in 2000)

6. Tangambara

Wife above Olympic Games
Despite all his fruitful efforts, Ali's humanitarian side is hardly known and is certainly much less famous than his musical alter ego. This is, in my opinion, a deliberate choice. He contributed his fair share and much more anonymously without first ushering TV cameras in... Even when he's solicited, he often declined the invitations. For example, when he was asked to perform at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Sydney, he thanked for the honour saying that the distance was too long for his age. It’s rumoured he didn’t want to leave his wife, who was sick at the time. As far as I know, he never reacted to this gossip, possibly because he didn’t want to be admired for a natural responsibility; in this case putting his wife above the Olympic Games. A clear sign of deep love and respect that nothing can disturb or hinder, as expressed in track 7!

7. Diaraby (Live in Bremen in 1993)

In another instance, when he's invited to the USA to collect his first Grammy in the 90’s, his reaction was something like: "I don't know what a Grammy is; but if people have a prize for me, they are welcome to bring it here where I was making music before they knew me". He knew very well what A Grammy represented, but he hardly cared about fame or fortune and in his view the award was, anyway, for his people - the custodians of the culture in which his music is deeply rooted... Modesty at it's pinnacle and the essence of greatness!

Humane and humble virtuosity
I saw AFT live four times and I've a couple of precious reminiscences with him. I first attended a concert of his in the late 80's or early 90's and it was, needless to say, a breathtaking and enriching experience. I talked with him at the end of the gig. Although I'd already heard and read about his extraordinary personality, I was still dumbfounded by his friendliness, selflessness and down-to-earth attitude! The 2nd or 3rd time, about 8 years later, he knew exactly who I was and he invited me to his home in Mali!

I've been planning to see him perform in the magic of his own environment, for instance at the Festival in the Desert. Regrettably, it was not to be. Deep in my soul, I somehow expected he'd continue for ages as his music and influence may. I saw him for the last time in 2005 at the Bozar in Brussels, Belgium (track 8). He was dying of bone cancer, but I didn’t even know that he was ill. The concert was marvelous, there was nothing to indicate he was in agony (though he must have been) and, in private, he didn't utter a single word about his hapless misfortune!

8. Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabaté_Debe (Live at the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, 2005)

Ali Farka Touré died on March 7, 2006. His passing is, obviously, a major loss: Loss of a unique man and artist brimming with virtuosity, wisdom, humility and humanity. This is why I am not surprised that the lords or devils who, so to speak, snatched him away were craving for exclusive concerts by him. The super intelligent (IQ, EQ and RQ) analphabet will be hugely missed!

P.S. In case you're wondering how my chemical engineering adventure ended: Well, I never reached its tails because I switched in the same year to Literature. A professor of African Studies helped me to find out the name of the musician on the tape. Through him, I subsequently discovered that my love and yearning for literature was much more powerful than I initially was aware of.

You see, the fortuitous encounter with AFT in a roadside restaurant in godforsaken Somali desert has played a major and positive role in my life. Thanks to all the deities in all their colours and genders for if I've pursued the chemical path, I might have ended up working for destructive and nefarious companies; such as the weapons industry against which millions of people are fighting today. One of many reasons why I am very grateful and indebted to Ali Farka Touré. A Million thanks, Ali. Requiescat in pace! Allah yarhamak rahmatul jannat al-Firdawsa!

P.P.S. I've recently uploaded a nr. of videos featuring Ali Farka Touré on YouTube. Check them out, if you so wish.


The above-mentioned videos are long gone as my account on YT has been deleted. I'd a few old (Blues) footages there and greedy copyright claimers, who are stubbornly refusing to make the vids available themselves, struck me into closure. Here is an alternative:

Let's finish with a proper musical tribute. It's difficult to choose since artists as varied as Ebo Taylor, Rage Against the Machine's Zack de la Rocha, Hank Shizzoe, Afel Bocoum & Alkibar, Mamar Kassey, the Irish poet and scholar David Wheatley (in a 12-page poem!) and many others have paid tribute to AFT. You'd find most of them on the net. The following two tracks come from Toumani Diabaté's tour "Ali Farka Touré Variations".

Toumani Diabaté_Soumbou Ya Ya! (Live at the Barbican, London, 2010)

Toumani Diabaté_Doudou (Live at the Barbican, London, 2010)

* The live tracks are bootlegs, hence the rather shaky sound quality. As you know, though, the CD versions are easily available thanks to World Circuit


  1. Ali Farka made ​​me understand life.

    Thanks for reminding him, you can use my Ali videos if you want.

  2. Welcome! You've a wonderful channel on YouTube! Are you originally from Mali and how do you get all these great Malian/African videos?

  3. Thanks for this great tribute to Ali Farka. The songs are not playing, can you restore them?

    1. It seems sth. has gone awry with the hosting site. I haven't done anything with it for a long time; it may have changed its policy as I even can't log on my account any more. Patience, I'll try to sort it out.

    2. Thanks a mil. I'm a big fan of Ali's music and I've learnt a lot more about him in your tribute, it actually inspires me to read about him. Any recoms as to what would be a good read for a starter and where these live recordings are to be found? -- Stef

    3. You're welcome! I'm not aware of books dealing with Ali's work, only articles/features and DVD's that are easily available online.

      The live recordings are bootlegs I got from friends or form the web. I've just done a quick search but I couldn't find any online. Mail me directly or leave your email here and I'll upload some for you. I'm quite busy - hence the late reply - and it may take a few weeks before I upload them.

  4. Great post, any Idea where one could get Toumani Diabate's 'Ali Farka Toure Variations' live in Barbican 2010 in mp3 or any other format. I have been searching for it like mad, as in literally..

  5. Thank you Sanaag, I have downloaded those two tracks, but preferably I would like the whole recording. They put it up on the BBC world music website, but then removed it after 7 days. So am wondering if anyone downloaded it at that phase or got hold of it somehow?...

    1. I've got the whole recording but I don't want to upload it on high traffic DL-sites swarming with people looking for unreleased bootlegs to sell. As I've said in that comment, mail me directly (my email is in the profile) or leave your email here and I'll up it and mail you the link.

  6. Hi Sanaag, check your e-mail, subject 'Ali Farka Toure Variations'. ;)

  7. Oh brilliant, check your e-mail Sanaag, subject 'Ali Farka Toure Variations'

  8. Thank you for the tracks and outstanding tribute to the master.

    It seems some of your pictures are not working.

  9. Thank you for sharing your amazing story. All the songs are the same. What went wrong?