Ali Farka Touré's Ancient Blues
 Malian guitarist Ali Farka Toure
Malian guitarist Ali Farka Toure

In the early eighties, Cora Connection's founder David Gilden was tuned into Gabon's famed short-wave station Africa Number 1, when through the radio static drifted in a faraway, haunting sound. With out realizing it, Dave had heard for the first time West Africa's answer to the American blues, guitarist and singer Ali Farka Touré.

Dave didn't know the artist, but he'd never forget the sound. The sonic backdrop of percussive calabash clicking and rhythmic bass thumps and a vocal chorus, all backing a lead vocalist who sang while playing sparse blues-like riffs on his acoustic guitar to produce a deep, earthy groove that was mesmerizing and hypnotic.

Years later, Dave put the story together when he got his hands on an old recording of Ali 's music, Sonodisc CD5558, which unfortunately is out of print these days. During the mid seventies Ali had been recording in Bamako and sending the tapes off to France. This was one of those sessions. Incidentally, Ali was quite bitter about the fact that he never saw all the money owed to him from those tapes. The Sonodisc experience nearly dissuaded him from continuing as a professional musician.

It was Ali Farka's "Ali Aoudy," the second track from that old Sonodisc CD that Dave had recorded off short-wave radio. The artist and his music were revealed! It was a fitting mode of discovery. In Ali's early days as a musician, his whole music career was radio. His music reached fellow Malians via broadcasts on Radio Mali. An excellent CD of that vintage material, Radio Mali, is now available on World Circuit/Nonesuch. The Alternative Press called Radio Mali "so powerful that it cuts across the boundaries of language and culture." Cora Connection agrees.

Ali's musical inspiration has always come from his life on the banks of the Niger river, at the edge of the Sahara desert. Born in 1939 in town Gourmararusse, Ali makes his home in Niafunké, where he now owns an extensive fruit and rice farm. These days, Ali prefers to stay there rather than tour. In fact, for his most recent recording, Niafunké (World Circuit/Nonesuch), Ali made the recording crew come to him and he recorded in his home. Nifaunké is his first album since the Grammy-winning collaboration with Ry Coder, Talking Timbuktu (World Circuit/Rykodisc).

Ali Farka Touré on Tour

On tour in summer 2000, Ali told audiences in New York and elsewhere that these would be his last US concerts ever. The airplanes, the relentless schedules, the food, the interviews-Ali tells anyone who will listen, "Enough!"

We'll see! During his previous U.S. tour, in 1995, Ali enjoyed a particularly good night at Johnny D's in Boston. Dave Gilden and Cora Connection were there, opening up the show, and sharing a rollicking moment with Ali backstage. For a guy who hates touring, he sure seemed happy. Dave had met up with Ali later at an impromptu party at his sister's home in Bamako,just after Ali received his Grammy for the record he made with Ry Cooder, Talking Timbuktu.

Banning Eyre was there too, getting ready to make his second extended trip to Mali,where he would study griot guitar at the home of Djelimady Tounarka, the subject of Banning's book, In Griot Time: An American Guitarist in Mali (Temple University Press). Backstage at Johnny D's, Ali had to show Banning that he too could play the griot guitar, the style know as Bajourou. For the record, Ali is not a fan of griots or griot music, but he wanted Cora Connection to know that the griots had nothing on him.

Five years later, Ali was back on tour and in Boston. This time playing to a standing room only crowd at the Middle East in a concert sponsored by House of Blues. Dave and Banning were there too, and Ali remembered everything. With friends from Mali, on and around the stage, the show took on an intimate feeling and Ali shone at his best. He told Banning later, "I like Boston. Boston is good. Better than New York." Notably, in Boston, Ali did not tell the audience it would be his last concert there.

Afel Bocoum: Ali Farka Touré's Protégé

For the 2000 tour, Ali Farka Touré was joined on stage by his star protégé, composer, singer and guitarist Afel Bocoum. Afel recently released his first international recording, Alkibar (World Circuit/Nonesuch ). This tour was his American debut.

Afel Bocoum began his studies with Ali Farka at the age of thirteen. Since that time, Afel has become a respected composer and musician in his own right. On Alkibar, Afel's lyrics cover topics of racial harmony, African pride and agricultural preservation, strong messages that resound above rolling melodies and rhythms.

Cora Connection took the opportunity to make Afel's acquaintance during the tour. This wasn't hard. For one thing, Oumar "Barou" Diallo, an old friend of Dave's and Banning's during their Malian adventures, was playing bass with both Afel and Ali. Barou is a central character in Banning's book. As luck would have it, Afel and Banning were booked to share the stage for an evening at the Seattle's brave new world music exposition, the Experience Music Project. On the eve of this summer's WOMAD festival, Banning read from his book and played griot guitar, and Afel played an acoustic set in one of EMP's glorious, state-of-the-art halls. Though they had just met, Banning and Afel soon fell to jamming, and Afel asked Banning to play a song with him at WOMAD, and then at the Boston Middle East Show, and finally at New York's Town Hall, near the end of the tour.

As they parted, Afel told Banning, "Ali may be retiring. But not me. I'll be back!" And Cora Connection will be waiting.

Discography

Ali Farka Touré

  • Untitled CD5558 -- Sonodisc 1989 (out of print)
  • The River World -- Circuit/Hannibal
  • The Source World -- Circuit/Hannibal
  • African Blues -- Shanachie
  • Talking Timbuktu with Ry Cooder -- World Circuit/Hannibal
  • Radio Mali World -- Circuit/Nonesuch
  • Niafunké -- Hannibal

Afel Bocoum

  • Afel Bocoum: Alkibar -- World Circuit/Nonesuch

AFRICA NUMERO UN

Africa Numero Un broadcasts from Gabon, with their programing being rebroadcast on medium wave (am) from local stations in French speaking West Africa. They can be heard on shortwave outside Africa! Try tuning your shortwave radio to 15475 khz between 1600 and 1900 UTC for news and music in French. African music generally starts at 1700. At 1900 they sign off 15475, continues on 9580 khz which is beamed to Central Africa and more difficult to pick up in the US, but still possible. Radio France and Voice of America have been known to broadcast Africa music.
Happy DXing.

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