In any given musical genre some names are destined to be known long after the person’s death and such is the case with the African singer and guitarist Ali Farka Touré and this new collection of Touré’s music – Voyageur – features previously unheard material. As it has been sixteen years since his death in March 2006, you would be forgiven for thinking that these songs are taken from the crumbs at the bottom of the biscuit barrel, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. The nine tracks here are remarkable, and it’s a testament to the incredible quality of Touré’s work across 21 previous albums that tracks this good are only now being released.
Now World Circuit has done a tremendous job pulling these together and they say that the tracks are “privileged moments captured spontaneously, on the road and in the studio, between sessions for other albums. Sung in five languages, the songs on ‘Voyageur’ were all of immense personal importance to Ali. They reflect his passionate commitment to the creativity and cultural diversity of his homeland, and a life spent in motion, as a traveller – a Voyageur – between the desert stages of Timbuktu, studios of West Hollywood, the concert halls of London and Tokyo, and tiny villages strung out on the Malian riverside, where Ali was – of course – known by everyone.”
It’s astonishing how effortlessly Touré commands both his voice and guitar, seemingly connected in a symbiotic relationship, with the vocal dexterity equally matched by the fluidity of his fingers dancing across the frets. Touré is a mesmerist and in so many of his songs he can achieve a groove that is hypnotic (see ‘Malahani’ and ‘Bandoloboourou’) and while his guitar rolls along or trills with accented flourishes , his voice can give you honey or a sandstorm. This versatility can be heard on the two versions of ‘Sambadio’. The first clicks and bounces on a steel-strung acoustic with a more urgent vocal line, whereas the second is fleshed out with beautiful horn phrases and a more mellow tone from both the electric guitar and vocals.
The track below, ‘Cherie’, is a stand-out song and is a testament to the beautiful friendship Touré had with exceptional Malian singer Oumou Sangaré. She said she considered him “like a protective big brother, and he was proud of my achievements on African development. Ali and I often used to sing together for Malian audiences”. It was recorded in London in 1995, and not released until now “this session is the only recorded trace of our musical harmony.” In comparison to the album’s grittier tracks, ‘Cherie’ has a lightness of touch and sweetness that captures the tenderness of their friendship. Sangaré also features on the tracks ‘Bandoloboourou’ and ‘Sadjona’.
Whether you are adding Voyageur to your Ali Farka Touré collection or coming to him for the first time, these tracks will sound as fresh as if they had been recorded this year.
Review by Paul F Cook