5 of the Best: Mali

As the hellish scenes of armed French intervention in Mali are still fresh in the mind, I feel moved to pay a small tribute to the great music of the troubled African state. Here, then, are 5 of the best from Mali.

Vieux Farka Toure – ‘Fafa’: From the first note of guitar mastery from ‘The Hendrix of the Saraha’ on this one, I challenge anybody to not be moved and quickly converted to wanting to know more about this great man’s music. Ali’s son is seemingly singing “Papa” against wailing screams and tears emanating from his guitar and larynx in unison, however, my cretinous brain could well be thinking that ‘Fafa’ must mean ‘Papa’ or ‘Father’ in Toure’s native tongue when it means nothing of the sort. If this is true, then I apologise for my idiocy. I really hope this is an ode to Ali though, as a more touching one would be hard to find (though maybe Vieux’s ‘Ali’ could do the job).


Vieux Farka Toure – ‘Fafa’

Amadou & Mariam – ‘M’Bifa’: The pungent, off-beat stomp of the bass against the unholy soar of the immediately alien sounding (to western ears) vocal booms smack the listener straight in the face on this, the first track on Diamanche a Bamako, while dumbfounding anybody within ear’s reach. The effect is such that it pulls you towards the rest of the album, instantly leaving you wanting more. A similar trick to The Clash kicking off Give ’em Enough Rope with ‘Safe European Home’.

Tinariwen – ‘Tenhert (The Doe)’: The Touareg outfit’s Led Zeppelin meets Arabic rap slant on this track was the first I’d ever heard of them after a few ringing endorsements in the music press. The result was such that I am now a fully-fledged fan in every sense. No superlative quite matches up to describing just how good Tinariwen are and this song is a fine example of their virtuosity as musicians.


Tinariwen – ‘Tenhert (The Doe)’

Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate – ‘Kala’: Bringing together two legends of what is rather lazily termed  ‘world music’, this song, and its parent album In the Heart of the Moon showcase both Ali and Toumani’s talents and, quite frankly, nothing I can say here will do it justice. “Ah, but that’s the point of you writing this isn’t it?” I hear you say. Well, yes, but sometimes it’s just better to point one’s audience to brilliance instead of verbosely describing it. Just listen.

Ali Farka Toure – ‘Dofana’: One of the legendary blues man’s songs was titled ‘Ali’s Here’. Grimly, he isn’t. One of the finest blues guitarists to have ever picked up an axe, Ali Farka Toure left a legacy in Malian music akin to that of Dylan in American music or The Beatles in English music. This song, from The Source, has all of the offbeat, chant-like qualities I have come to love from his music. To be honest, this whole list could be made up of songs from The Source, such is the quality of the record. Transcendental, weirdly spiritual blues which once heard will stay with you.

Ali Farka Toure

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