From the first few, sharply beautiful notes of this exquisite pairing, it is already clear that this album will be one of the key records of the year. Ali Farka Touré’s guitar and Toumani Diabaté’s Kora emit a phenomenal series of notes that interlock with each other like two intricate cogs in some otherworldly machine.
Ali Farka Touré himself is so excited by the record that he literally jumped out of his chair to play tracks from it to one of Fly’s writers when she visited him at his house. This, the first new recording for either artist in half a decade, came about through one of those planned ‘accidents’ that have made World Circuit’s name. Label boss, Nick Gold set up his mobile studio in a hotel in Bamako on the banks of the Niger to record an album from Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté respectively but he was canny enough to ensure the overlap would present an opportunity for them to play together. That they did and, in true record-making myth style, the tracks poured out of the two artists of different traditions without second takes and in three consecutive afternoons.
“I am Arma and Toumani is a Griot. I am from the Songrai/Peul culture in the north and he is a Mandé from the south. It’s rare that musicians meet like this from different traditions. But there is something that unites us and it is art and culture, which have no borders,” says Ali Farka Touré of this pairing. In fact, the repertoire they pick takes a step back from the music that either would normally play and it is drawn from the music of the 50s as the country moved towards independence in 1960. Jamana kura (new era) music, like its Latin American cousin Nueva Trova, challenged social conventions in its controversial lyrics and adopted the ethnically neutral guitar.
Toumani Diabaté seemed taken aback that Ali Farka Touré had this repertoire within him, “People will be very surprised when they hear Ali play Manding music, which is the music of the Griot people, on his guitar… All of us were surprised to see Ali have a connection with this kind of music. He flicked one of his lion’s claws that no one knew about and produced these ancient pieces.” Of course, Ali Farka Touré has been involved at the highest level with curating and teaching Malian music and culture so perhaps it is not that surprising that he had it in him.
The thing that really takes your breath away about this recording is the wonderful complexity of the playing rendered beautiful by the clean, crisp sound of each musician and the almost supernatural empathy between the two artists as they spontaneously explore the traditional material in clever and often joyful ways. To catch each other as they go further and further from the base tune requires more than trust, in this case it is faith that holds the whole thing together. “Musically,” Ali tells Toumani, “you go where you want when you want and come back when you want to come back. I’ll stay fixed. I won’t go anywhere.”
The only bad news is that you will have to wait until 27 June to hear what Ali Farka Touré calls a “very important meeting in the realm of the heart of the moon.”
Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabate — In the Heart of the Moon is released on World Circuit (WCD072), 27 June and they play a unique concert together on 29 June at the Barbican, London.
Ali Farka Toure interview