West African Blues Eulogy Conjures Desert Lightning


By the time Ali Farka Toure died of bone cancer in March, the Malian musician’s twangy guitar and raspy, rough-hewn voice were touted as proof that the blues had been born in West Africa. But while Toure cut his teeth playing traditional Songhai spirit possession music, he also dug Albert King and John Lee Hooker, so who knows where he got his mojo? Still, as this posthumous release demonstrates, Toure had always been more Bamako than Biloxi. Funkmaster Pee Wee Ellis and blues harpist Little George Sueref gamely ape Toure’s incantatory style, only to be trampled by a chorus of one-string fiddles and ngoni lutes. Yet Toure’s own neo-griot vocals and curlicued, kora-like guitar licks cut through the busy ensemble textures like desert lightning, threatening to summon the same spirits that first led him to a life in music. His passing makes their world richer, and ours poorer.