ALI FARKA TOURE Savane
ALI FARKA TOURE
(World Circuit WCD075)
The elastic thwack of deeply reverbed, firmly struck ngonis kicks off Erdi before the band powers its way into wall-of-sound action - Ali's clanging electric guitar, the wail of the one-string njarka fiddle, percussion (including Fain Dueñas from Radio Tarifa), and Little George Sueref's gutsy blues harmonica filling out the mix. It's tempting to evoke references to Memphis or Chicago in the early 1950s when somebody else's rural blues went seeking a bigger noise, but in truth this is timeless music, so solidly rooted in the Malian soil that you can smell the West African night.
By a strange trick of history it was exactly 20 years ago that we published my first review of an Ali Farka Toure album on Disques Esperance in fRoots, pondering on the mystery of this stark music from somewhere out there, and in what was possibly his first album review in English, the reference to blues was already made. The evocative cover of Savane makes the same link at the close of Ali's life, billing him indisputably as "The King Of The Desert Blues Singers", for that he surely was. And as Ali grew in our eyes and lives from a distant mirage to a solid, familiar being, so his music gained flesh and muscle. And here, in his final gift to us, everything comes together.
Some are simple pieces, full of desert air - the title track itself, for example. Here it's centred on Ali's laid-back, reflective guitar and vocal while Bassekou Kouyate's small ngoni spins high lines and Mama Sissoko pins down the funky end on the bass version. Totally sublime, a complete distillation of the man's music. Similarly, Ledi Coumba, driven by Dassy Sarre's thundering bass ngoni and with Little George wailing like Little Walter's lonesome ghost. The middle ground is filled withtracks like Beto, Ali spinning one of his circular riffs, Ramata Diakite contributing backing vocals and past collaborator Pee Wee Ellis squeezing out some deliciously simple sax riffs. And at the other end of the scale, the big band grinders like Erdi, Machengoidi and Banga, the latter trance-like with Yacouba Moumouni's Sonrai flute thickening the mix furher. But throughout, other than on the brief instrumental interlude of Hanana (virtuoso njarka, pounding bolon - bass harp - and percussion, plus Ali's foot) it's his guitar and voice with those ngoni giants laying the foundation, central, the key flavour.
If he had to leave us, this was the way to go. Savane is easily Ali Farka Toure's most fully realised album of his long career - the best possible legacy, surpassing all he's recorded before and in a quite visionary way. And with "classic", "collection cornerstone" and "an album of the decade" written all over it in invisible graffiti.
Review from fRoots magazine July 2006.
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