Album Reviews

Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabaté – Ali And Toumani

(World Circuit) UK release date: 22 February 2010

Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabaté - Ali And Toumani Recorded in London in 2005, this is the second collaborative release from the late great African blues guitarist Ali Farka Touré and his fellow Malian, acclaimed kora player Toumani Diabaté. Their 2005 release In The Heart Of The Moon, also featuring Ry Cooder, won great critical praise, and was nominated for a BBC World Music Award. That this is the final, posthumous release by Touré (and by Orlando ‘Cachaíto’ López who plays bass on several tracks) has simply made it all the more eagerly awaited.

Despite a smattering of other musicians, including the aforementioned Lopez on bass, Touré’s son Vieux Farka Touré on congas, backing vocalists and other percussionists who feature on a couple of tracks, this is very much about Touré’s virtuoso guitar and Diabaté’s magnificent kora playing.

The former – classical and casually brilliant – is often used as the anchor and the pace-setter, around which the latter flutters, flickers and darts. Repeated patterns emerge, detailed and intricate, as Diabaté playfully weaves in and out, without ever giving the sense of losing his or his partner’s way. Opening track Ruby exemplifies this, as does pretty much every one of the other 10, with its deceptively laconic, ambulatory pace, and a wonderful gentleness combined with its flights of arpeggio-ed fancy.

Even better are the magical Be Mankan, and 56; the former a yearning beautiful/sad confection and the latter a complete aural delight. Its seemingly simple three note trills and repetitions, echoing from guitar to kora and back again, collude to form a tapestry of dazzling colour, technical proficiency and flat-out lovely sounds, resulting in a piece that seems something like the ultimate culmination of this intense collaboration. Certainly a high point, at least.

For those not familiar with the kora, this stringed instrument sounds like a cross between a harp and a harpsichord: all cascading notes, chiming tones and occasional staccato bursts – as on Warbe and 56. In combination with the rhythmic, sometimes blues-inflected guitar playing, the absence, in the main, of vocal doesn’t feel like a deprivation.

The two tracks that do feature singing are Sabu Yerkoy and Sina Mory, where the vocal follows the same melody as that sketched by the instruments. In both cases it seems near-superfluous, the better segments being the instrumental sections between singing, although this might perhaps be attributable to a Westerner’s lack of lyrical comprehension and therefore of their function and place in the songs.

Throughout there is a tangible improvisatory feel, most evident in the way that tracks such as Sabu Yerkoy, Be Mankan, Doudou and Samba Geladio are firmly brought to a close. What is equally, and wonderfully, evident is the extent to which these are two intuitive musicians are each not only invested with an incredible mastery of their own instruments, but also how impressively in sync they are with each other. This is one of the most perfectly pitched and unselfish of pairings, a meeting of wonderfully-matched musical minds and skills.

Tragically, Touré died from bone cancer at the age of 66 in March 2006. But this album and its predecessor are worthy and awe-inspiring tributes to the man and the Malian musical traditions for which he and Diabaté were – and continue to be – the strongest and most compelling of standard-bearers.

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