between the Niger River and the Mississippi Delta - Ali Farka Touré
Updated: Nov 16
Despite the physical distance between the Niger River and the Mississippi Delta, for moments it feels like Ali Farka lives in both. The distance between Islam in its african version, full of demons and spirits of nature and between the gospel churches of the American South with their multitude of idols is also shrinking and Ali Farkas huge image and hismusic contain both worlds and all the distance between them together.
It's no secret that American music arrived in Africa and made a big impact already in the middle of the twentieth century, and Afro-American blues found a new home, a large part of which filled the famous cassette collection of Ali Farka. The local tunes played on n’goni or NJARKA one-stringed bow instruments were fundamentally similar to the pentatonic music of the blues.
One can argue and say that there is no historical evidence for this connection, and that African blues is just a branding ploy by music critics or worse, salespeople of the music industry to create another market for world music. But there are clear elements that point to a connection between the styles. In terms of the structure, the form of ‘call and respons’, in terms of the topics and the role of society as music that expresses the difficulties of life, the fracture of a person torn from his homeland, the hardships of the desert and thirst, spiritual and physical. Using the pentatonic scale along with a single stringed instrument, a person accompanies themselves with a guitar or a n’goni.
This is how a style develops, from the migration of melodies, a circular game of foreignness and kinship and according to Ali Farka's words "I stayed in the tradition and they(african americans) continued to develop it in exile". Ali Freka's influences according to him are Otis Redding, John Lee Hooker, JB Lanois and possibly Robert Johnson at least as a spiritual father, echoing the mythology in which Johnson sells his soul to the devil to receive the gift of phenomenal guitar playing. Ali says that at the age of 11 he lost his mind, a demon from the Niger River took over him and it was only thanks to the resourcefulness of his mother who knew how to talk to spirits and demons that he was saved. She sent him away for a year, tied his hands so he wouldn't go wild and he managed to get stronger and heal. Even Islam could not drive away the demons and spirits. They are there to stay.
But Ali is also a practical man, who was born and lived his childhood in poverty and also from the height of his worldly success preached manual labor, producing food is the first goal. From the money he earned in his first tours he built an irrigation system in the village, a move that helped him get the title of village chief.
Ali sings in nine languages, the region is a crossroads of cultures and the musicians are the bees that pollinate all the flowers. A musician lives and creates in different languages and each language has its own musical tradition. The beauty of his music is that he creates African music that feels to a western listener who grew up on rock and blues like another dialect of the language but a dialect with enough foreignness to feel new and interesting. And to me this is actually the most basic human story. How a story, or for that matter a melody or musical style unfolds. The echoes of the story become main stories themselves and perhaps the story that started it all receives changes in the spirit of its successors and there is no longer a clear path, who influences and who is influenced, all from one great melody of boundless humanity.
His debut album, and the album that followed - the red and the green as they are referred to were not successful to say the least, and until the British booking agency ‘’world circuit’’ and in the future also the record company that specialized in African music found him, he had time to retire from the music business. Only the third album brought him to the world audience, in fact the audience to which Perka Torre addressed from the beginning with his spectrum of influences.
Milestones that must be heard are RED AND GREEN - brings together the first two albums as mentioned with the blessed minimalism and the precision of an initial statement, the power of the music lies in the mesmerizing repetition and the power of the human cry. The rhythm of the singing with the groovy and squeaky guitar on the rhythm of the calabash manage to make me move my body and want to dance and respond by singing a response of the whole body to the simple but so effective melodies.
the source with Taj Mahal - Collaboration across continents and styles by two masters.
And of course talking timboktu the collaboration with ry cooder, the great musician and producer who is responsible for another crazy success of the label - Buena Vista Social Club. One of my favorite albums ever. Let's not start talking about his long career since the "safe as milk" days of my favorite beefheart,
Musicians who would come after him and become household names all over the world such as Tinarivan, Bombino, and of course Beno and Vio Perka Tora point to him as a great influence and a path-paveer.