Ali Farka Toure addendum
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Mon Aug 7 10:38:40 MDT 2000
NY Times, August 7, 2000
Ali Farka Toure: From Timbuktu Riffs to Shuffle of the Blues
By JON PARELES
The Malian guitarist, singer and bandleader Ali Farka Toure announced his
retirement at his concert at Town Hall on Friday night. Speaking in French,
he said that he was 61 years old and that it was time for a younger
generation of musicians to be heard. If it was a farewell concert, then he
went out rocking.
Mr. Toure, who has toured Europe and the United States, spent most of the
previous decade as a farmer in the town of Niafunke, near Timbuktu. His
producers had to come to him to make his most recent album, "Niafunke"
(Hannibal/Rykodisc). Yet his retirement plans have nothing to do with
reclusiveness or waning technique. Onstage he radiated joy, showmanship and
the kind of irreverence that's earned through complete artistic mastery. He
thoroughly understands both the Malian traditions he carries and exactly
how he intends to transmute them.
He draws on music and words from many of Mali's old tribes, singing in
Songhai, Peul, Bambara and other languages. The music is a weave of riffs
and polyrhythms that were probably once plucked on harps and tapped on
marimbas; only a few songs use chords instead of single notes. Mr. Toure
started most tunes alone, picking runs and trills that defied any steady
beat, then cued the band: electric bass, congas, djembe (hand drum),
calabash (played with sticks) and two singers with coordinated dance steps.
Songs that sound like meditations on his studio recordings had a new kick
onstage; with any luck, he'll make a live album.
The prickly, syncopated, one-chord patterns in Malian music are kin to the
one-chord modal blues of American musicians like John Lee Hooker, and Mr.
Toure knows it. Sometimes he shifted the Malian rhythms, which often
subdivide into triplets, toward the slow lope of a blues shuffle; sometimes
he brought blues inflections and bent notes to his voice and guitar.
One song even had stop-time passages, like a Chicago blues band. But where
blues songs take up private feelings in surges of tension and release, the
Malian songs are proverbs and admonitions to the community, delivered as
thoughtful incantations or call-and-response with the group. In "Hilly
Yoro," Mr. Toure instructed: "Everyone should follow their own route/If a
man has no eyes another can see." Mr. Toure also sang about young soldiers
fighting a war they didn't understand, about the power of trust and about a
Mr. Toure set up the patterns precisely and sang in a kindly but unswerving
voice. Then his electric guitar jumped into the foreground. With a tone
that had nearly enough reverb for surf music, Mr. Toure would bend a note
toward discordance, jab against the beat or soar into a glissando, heeding
the pattern only to disrupt it at will. He was a modern individualist
shaking up a tradition yet not leaving it behind.
At one point he said he was a self-taught musician, then introduced "my
real master": he pulled a njarka, a one-stringed fiddle, out of a bag. On
it he played a fierce Malian hoedown, in an African tonality that had
nothing to do with the West.
Afel Bocoum, who opened the concert, has worked with Mr. Toure for 30
years. His own band, Alkibar, was like a backwoods Mississippi band opening
for a polished urban soul revue: less flashy and dynamic, but richly
hypnotic. Mr. Bocoum played acoustic guitar, and Alkibar included a backup
singer and musicians on calabash, njarka, njurkle (small one-stringed
guitar) and electric bass. Above the clicking triplets of the calabash, Mr.
Bocoum praised friendship, condemned materialism and warned about forest
destruction and desertification. The complex modal patterns circled again
and again, carrying both the lessons in the songs and the spirit of age-old
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