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Ali Farka Touré + Toumani Diabaté - Ali and Toumani

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Artist: Ali Farka Touré + Toumani Diabaté

Album: Ali and Toumani

Label: Nonesuch

Review date: Feb. 16, 2010

Two of Mali’s most famous international musical ambassadors, Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté followed open-minded and eclectic paths while never straying from the riverine and timeless beauty at the heart of the varied sources for their respective visions. This, their second collaboration — and also Ali’s last recording before his death — shows just how deep and satisfying those sources, whether pure or intertwined, might be.

Kora master Diabaté’s hereditary status as a griot has always informed his elegant and adventurous playing, and that holds true here, as he combines the cultural depth of his traditional/classical attainment with a jazzman’s command of timing, space and tonal nuance. As for Touré, he was always an inventor — finding his own voice and expression in digging up various musical roots; creating and refining an idiom for voice and steel-stringed guitar that, while it was deeply personal, nonetheless always sang clearly with the sights, sounds and stories of the Niger River countryside that he came from. Here, on these last sessions, Touré seems quieter, perhaps, but nonetheless intense — as if that powerful musical vision was turned slightly inward

The album opener, “Ruby,” a Bobo song from nearby to Ali’s home village of Niafunke, sets the tone for much of what will follow. Here the musicians sound deceptively relaxed, with nothing to prove, exuding gravitas and pure musical confidence. Touré’s guitar is steady-rolling and mercurial all at once; Diabaté’s kora ripples in graceful patterns, with the occasional rhapsodic melodic run delivered with composed and offhand virtuosity. It’s as if we are hearing two musicians who have refined the best and most ideal aspects of their personalities and shaped them into musical expression. It’s the sort of thing that only the most highly-developed artist can aspire to, and hearing it happen just gives one the shivers.

Each listening to the record reveals another treasure: The easy, natural Songhai/Cuban synthesis at the core of Ali’s 1960s song “Sabu Yerkoy” (with wonderful acoustic bass from Cuban maestro Orlando “Cachaito” Lopez); the history and legend recounted on the epic “Sina Mory,” in which both musicians play as one to utterly inhabit the cyclical, undulating melody and words. Played as a gentle waltz, “Be Mankan” is almost unbearably beautiful, its mood fully in keeping with the message of its proverb: “It’s the blessings that make the tears fall.”

To put it simply, Ali and Toumani is a quiet, intimate, timeless record; a transcendent expression of cultural pride, deep friendship, and above all, breath-taking musical colloquy.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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