Malian guitarist Ali Farka Toure's music has always managed global travel with ease and musical grace, shrinking the miles between Western Africa and the Mississippi Delta and seemingly visiting every city in between. Toure has received his share of accolades for blurring the lines between his contemporary/traditional fingerpicking style and "country blues." Toure has routinely collaborated with musicians from other cultures and musical genres, most notably the prolific and internationally influenced Ry Cooder on their widely acclaimed 1994 album Talking Timbuktu.
By the mid-'90s, Malian guitarist Ali Farka Touré was expanding his signature acoustic African blues by changing his instrumental palette and collaborating with Western musicians like Ry Cooder (as on 1994's Talkin' Timbuktu). While Touré gained prominence during this period, many die-hard fans tout the artist's earliest work as his strongest. The double-disc set Red & Green brings together two albums originally released by the French label Sonodisc between the mid- and late '80s. The original vinyl versions were long out of print and difficult to find, until their issue here on World Circuit/Nonesuch. Both albums are entirely acoustic (Touré didn't introduce an electric guitar until 1991's The Source), with minimal accompaniment on calabash and ngoni (a traditional four-string guitar), which perfectly complements Touré's percussive guitar style and plaintive, keening vocals.
Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate come across like the Odd Couple of Malian music. Toure is the tall, bespectacled veteran with the long fingers and a wide grin, looking very relaxed as he settles down to play a loping riff on his acoustic guitar. Diabate is younger, shorter, more intense, arranging himself in front of his kora, the ancient, multi-stringed west African harp. When you see him on video, you can’t quite believe just how quickly his fingers dance around all those strings.
This self-titled debut is an amazing collection, spotlighting the Malian guitarist in his full solo acoustic glory for a beautiful, intimate music that recalls American blues.
This self-titled debut is an amazing collection, spotlighting the Malian guitarist in his full solo acoustic glory for a beautiful, intimate music that recalls American blues. The beauty of Ali Farka Toure lives in Toure's light, nimble touch on the strings as well as his flexible, reedy voice, which both perfectly complement his gentle, ambling rhythmic style.
Like his legendary father, Ali Farka Touré, Vieux is a guitarist who likes to collaborate. He has worked with the Israeli keyboard player Idan Raichel, and now comes an even more powerful partnership, with American singer Julia Easterlin. The opening Little Things starts with the familiar guitar lines of that Malian favourite Kaira, before Easterlin eases in to nudge the song towards western balladry. Elsewhere, this bravely original fusion switches from an African funk treatment of Fever Ray’s I’m Not Done to slow, thoughtful laments. The traditional In the Pines has been covered by everyone from Lead Belly to Nirvana, but is here reworked with chilling, whispered vocals and desert blues guitar, while the most startling track is a slow, African-edged treatment of Dylan’s Masters of War, which sounds like a pained meditation on the recent chaos in Mali.