Ali Farka Touré

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Ali Farka Touré
Ali Farka Toure.jpg
Background information
Birth nameAli Ibrahim Touré
Born(1939-10-31)31 October 1939
Timbuktu Region, Mali
OriginNiafunké, Mali
Died6 March 2006(2006-03-06) (aged 66)
Bamako, Mali
Malian Folk
InstrumentsVocals, Guitar, Cabasa, Njarka
LabelsWorld Circuit

Ali Ibrahim "Ali Farka" Touré (31 October 1939 – 6 March 2006)[1][2] was a Malian singer and multi-instrumentalist, and one of the African continent's most internationally renowned musicians.[3] His music blends traditional Malian music and its derivative, North American blues.[4] Touré was ranked number 76 on Rolling Stone's list of "The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time"[5] and number 37 on Spin magazine's "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time".[6]


Touré was born in 1939 in the village of Kanau, on the banks of the Niger River in Gourma-Rharous Cercle in the northwestern Malian region of Tombouctou. His family belonged to the Arma community and moved to the nearby village of Niafunké when he was still an infant.[7] His father died serving in the French Army in 1940.[8] He was the tenth son of his mother but the only one to survive past infancy. "The name I was given was Ali Ibrahim, but it's a custom in Africa to give a child a strange nickname if you have had other children who have died",[7] Touré was quoted as saying in a biography on his record label, World Circuit Records. His nickname, "Farka", chosen by his parents, means "donkey", an animal admired for its tenacity and stubbornness: "Let me make one thing clear. I'm the donkey that nobody climbs on!"[7] Ethnically, he was part Songhai, part Fula.[7]

As the first African bluesman to achieve widespread popularity on his home continent, Touré was often known as "the African John Lee Hooker".[9] Musically, the many superpositions of guitars and rhythms in his music were similar to John Lee Hooker's hypnotic blues style. He usually sang in one of several African languages, mostly Songhay, Fulfulde, Tamasheq or Bambara[7] as on his breakthrough album, Ali Farka Touré, which established his reputation in the world music community.

Touré's first North American concert was in Harrison Hot Springs, British Columbia[citation needed]. 1994's Talking Timbuktu, a collaboration with Ry Cooder, sold promisingly well in Western markets,[10] but was followed by a hiatus from releases in America and Europe. He reappeared in 1999 with the release of Niafunké, a more traditional album focusing on African rhythms and beats. Touré was the mentor and uncle of popular Malian musician Afel Bocoum[citation needed].

Some of Touré's songs and tunes have been used in different programmes, films and documentaries.[11] For instance, his guitar riff on the song "Diaraby", from the album Talking Timbuktu, was selected for the Geo-quiz segment of The World PRI-BBC program, and was retained by popular demand when put to a vote of the listeners.[12] This song is likewise used in 1998 as a soundtrack for the film L'Assedio (Besieged) by the Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci. His songs Cinquante six, Goye Kur and Hawa Dolo from the album The Source are also used as a soundtrack in the French film Fin août, début septembre (Late August, Early September) directed in 1998 by Olivier Assayas.[11] The song "Lasidan" was featured in the award winning documentary "Sharkwater" by Rob Stewart.

In 2002 Touré appeared with Black American blues and reggae performer Corey Harris, on an album called Mississippi to Mali (Rounder Records). Toure and Harris also appeared together in Martin Scorsese's 2003 documentary film Feel Like Going Home,[11] which traced the roots of blues back to its genesis in West Africa. The film was narrated by Harris and features Ali's performances on guitar and njarka.

In 2004 Touré became mayor of Niafunké and spent his own money grading the roads, putting in sewer canals and fuelling a generator that provided the impoverished town with electricity.[7]

In September 2005, Touré released the album In the Heart of the Moon, a collaboration with Toumani Diabaté, for which he received a second Grammy award.[7] His last album, Savane, was posthumously released in July 2006. It was received with wide acclaim by professionals and fans alike and has been nominated for a Grammy Award in the category "Best Contemporary World Music Album".[citation needed] The panel of experts from the World Music Chart Europe (WMCE), a chart voted by the leading World Music specialists around Europe, chose Savane as their Album of the Year 2006, with the album topping the chart for three consecutive months (September to November 2006).[13] The album has also been listed as No. 1 in the influential Metacritic's "Best Albums of 2006" poll,[14] and No. 5 in its all-time best reviewed albums.[14] Ali Farka Touré has also been nominated for the BBC Radio 3 awards 2007.[15]

On 6 March 2006, the Ministry of Culture of Mali announced Touré's death at age 66 in Bamako from bone cancer, which he had been battling for some time. His record label, World Circuit, said that he had recorded several tracks with his son, Vieux Farka Touré, for Vieux's debut album which was released in late 2006[citation needed].

In February 2018 Idrissa Soumaoro's song Bèrèbèrè, featuring Touré, was used in Black Panther.[16]

In popular culture[edit]

  • In the French film l'Auberge espagnole (2002), two characters are seen playing air guitar to "Ai Du".[11]
  • In the movie Unfaithful (2002), Diane Lane and Olivier Martinez slow dance to "Ai Du".[11]
  • In the French film Irma Vep (1996), Maggie Cheung and Nathalie Richard ride an old motorcycle down the quay to Touré's song "Soukoura".[11]
  • In the 2005 travel film Michael Palin: SAHARA, his music is heard in a scene about Nigerian nomads.[citation needed]
  • The World, a radio show distributed by Public Radio International, uses the song "Diaraby" as the theme to their Geoquiz. The song is a collaboration between Touré and Ry Cooder; the song is featured on their Talking Timbuktu album.[12]
  • The 2018 Marvel Studios film Black Panther features the song "Bèrèbèrè".[17] The title "Bèrèbèrè" – meaning "to help each other" in Bambara – Malian guitarist and singer Idrissa Soumaoro illustrates the moment when T'Challa and Nakia walk in the market after their long separation. The cover of the album "Djitoumou" from which this title comes seems to have inspired the scene of the film in which we can hear "Bèrèbèrè", in the heart of a lively market.[18][19]
  • In the French localizations of Nintendo's Animal Crossing games, the song called "Safari K.K." in English-speaking regions is instead referred to as "Ali Farka Kéké".



  • 2002 – Ali Farka Touré – Le miel n'est jamais bon dans une seule bouche – a documentary film by Marc Huraux[21]
  • A Visit to Ali Farka Toure was released on DVD in the UK by Digital Classics DVD.
  • I'll Sing for You, 2001

Awards and Nominations[edit]

Year Awarded Nominee/work Category Result Ref.
1994 Talking Timbuktu Best World Music Album Won
1999 Niafunké Best World Music Album Nominated
2005 In The Heart Of The Moon Best World Music Album Won
2006 Savane Best Contemporary World Music Album Nominated
2010 Ali and Toumani Best Traditional World Music Album Won

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Pareles, Jon (8 March 2006). "Ali Farka Touré, Grammy-Winning Musician of West Africa, Dies". Retrieved 17 May 2018.
  2. ^ "Ali Farka Toure". 8 March 2006. Retrieved 17 May 2018.
  3. ^ "African star Ali Farka Toure dies". March 7, 2006.
  4. ^ Global South: Our Homage To A Great Master – Ali Farka Toure Archived 2014-10-17 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ "100 Greatest Guitarists: David Fricke's Picks". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 17 May 2018.
  6. ^ "SPIN's 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time". Retrieved 2012-11-09.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Biography on World Circuit (Original text by Lucy Duran (updated by Nick Gold & Dave McGuire))
  8. ^ Dictionary of African Biography. OUP USA. 2 February 2012. p. 51. ISBN 9780195382075.
  9. ^ "BBC – Awards for World Music 2007 – Ali Farka Toure". Retrieved 3 September 2019.
  10. ^ Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 454. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  11. ^ a b c d e f "Ali Farka Touré". Retrieved 17 May 2018.
  12. ^ a b "Ali Farka Toure". Archived from the original on 2009-11-24. Retrieved 3 September 2019.
  13. ^ "Charts – World Music Charts Europe".
  14. ^ a b "Best Music and Albums".
  15. ^ "BBC – Radio 3 – Awards for World Music 2007".
  16. ^ "The 5 Best Music Moments From 'Black Panther'". Retrieved 17 May 2018.
  17. ^ "Idrissa Soumaoro – Bèrèbèrè (feat. Ali Farka Touré) [Black Panther Soundtrack]".
  18. ^ "The 5 Best Music Moments From 'Black Panther'".
  19. ^ "Idrissa Soumaoro – Bèrèbèrè (feat. Ali Farka Touré) [Black Panther Soundtrack]". YouTube.
  20. ^ News Nonesuch Records Archived 2009-12-05 at the Wayback Machine.
  21. ^ "Ali Farka Touré – Le miel n'est jamais bon dans une seule bouche". 10 July 2002. Retrieved 17 May 2018.


  • Kubik, Gerhard (1999). Africa and the Blues. Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 1-57806-145-8 (hardcover); ISBN 1-57806-146-6 (paperback).
  • Guralnick, Peter, ed. (2003). Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues: A Musical Journey. A companion book to the PBS documentary series Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues: A Musical Journey. Foreword by Alex Gibney; afterword by Chuck D. New York: Amistad.

External links[edit]