WORLD CIRCUIT 10th March 2023
It’s hard to imagine there can be much left to release from the king of the Desert Blues. He died in 2006 and it seemed like the posthumous release in 2010 was the last new material we’d hear. Even worse than that, any new material would be likely to be outtakes and floor sweepings, things not good enough for release at the time. Wrong, all wrong!
These are pieces recorded between takes, between sessions, or while touring, over a fifteen year period. Assembled here they are a welcome addition to the legacy. Hypnotic rolling blues full of understated vocals and perfect blues guitar are the menu here – from the loose, intimate feel of the acoustic ‘Sambadio’ to the jamming improvisation of ‘Bandoloborou’. Many of these tracks are collaborations and you can hear the inspiration in working with other voices, such as Oumou Sangare. Interestingly, the ‘Sambadio’ turns up twice in the album – the second time tighter and electric, with sax punctuation.
Whilst, to a Western ear, this music is clearly linked to the Blues, Ali saw his music as local, in the Malian tradition. That doesn’t stop the easy accessibility of the form and his early life helped that. Travelling a lot in early jobs like taxi driver, he got to hear different musics, learn a number of traditional instruments and pick up seven local languages. At the age of seventeen he heard acoustic guitar at a ballet performance and decided to learn it. Thanks to having learnt to play one-stringed instruments and having no teacher, he created for himself a new and distinctive sound, yet one that is not far from that of John Lee Hooker in its simple but right playing.
Despite an underground popularity in France, it was thirty years till he was recorded and released widely in the West, touring with World Circuit Records. Some people would love that, along with the acclaim for records like Talking Timbuktu (with Ry Cooder) but, at times, Ali preferred to farm in his home village, becoming mayor there, recording locally and releasing sporadically.
The opening ‘Safari’ is the place to start if Ali Farka Toure is new to you. A ringing electric guitar, call and response vocals, a resonant voice and a cyclic jam that might never end. The guitar solo is joyful and the feel is purely North African. Sadjona sees sax (and Oumou Sangare) added to the mix, Oumou’s voice replacing Ali’s and weaving magic as she improvises a tribute to Ali out of a traditional piece – recorded spontaneously at a microphone check.
Elsewhere, on ‘Cherie’, Oumou duets vocally and adds percussive propulsion with her instrument, something similar to a kora. ‘Kenouna’ opens on the wonderful sound of Toure’s instrument, picking and flowing fluidly before the vocal chorus work – another strongly representative starting point for any new listener. ‘Kombo Galia’ has a buzzing, resonant band, huge backing chorus and a sense of fun.
The whole is another joyous, rolling celebration of communal music making that is more than welcome.