“This is music that has been taken from us,” says Ali Farka Toure of the blues and this double LP release of impossible-to-find early recordings is claiming it back.
Farmer, athlete, mayor, sound engineer, river pilot, linguist, family man, musicologist and to the world outside Niafunké province in Mali, supreme proponent of the style known as Malian blues, Ali Farka Toure is one of the most unlikely music stars on the planet.
Following on from his grandmother, Ali took a deep interest in the local belief system which describes a world of underwater sprites living in the river Niger, which are said to be responsible for vicissitudes of the local climate and changes in fortune. His passion for the music and culture of this world view sits uneasily with his devout Islamic beliefs, which is itself another major influence on his music.
Songs from his first five releases were reissued by World Circuit as Radio Mali. Red and Green were to be his sixth and seventh albums from 1984 and 1988 respectively. Red would cause a stir after being picked up from a bargain bin in Paris by Andy Kershaw and played on his Radio 1 show. Not long after that, World Circuit’s Anne Hunt would travel to Mali and issue a successful appeal on the national radio network to track this elusive performer down. International concerts and releases would follow making Ali Farka Toure almost as well known outside Mali as he is within his own province.
Everything that we know as the trademark Ali Farka Toure sound is already present within these two recordings. The reliance on simple clippety clop percussion backing, his beautiful bluesy guitar playing and the almost mournful nasal singing. On first listening the tracks seem to run into each other but, upon further listens, greater texture emerges and the sound colour palette, while always ochre, is hugely varied in its tints and tones. Although he is never anything but unplugged, some songs have a greater complexity like the marvelous harmonies evident in songs like ‘Timbindy’ or ‘La Drogue’.
If you are looking for a very different approach to the one familiar to listeners of Niafunké or Radio Mali, this beautifully presented double album set will disappoint. On the other hand, if you want more of Ali Farka Toure’s African desert blues then this album is for you.
RED: 1. La Drogue 2. Ali Aoudy 3. Cherie 4. Timbindy 5. Laleiche 6. Ketne 7. Laisse Les Phases 8. Baliky Lalo.
GREEN: 1. Sidi Gouro 2. O Kata Gouma 3. Devele Wague 4. N’timbara 5. Zona 6. M’baudy 7. Petenere 8. L’Exode
Personnel: Ali Farka Toure – guitar, vocals; Hammer Sankare – vocals, calabash, ngoni
Red & Green is released on World Circuit