World renowned Blues guitarist, vocalist, band leader and songwriter, Corey Harris, launched his first book on Monday 12th May in London. ‘Jahtigui: The Life and Music of Ali Farka Toure’ is the only book honouring the man and his legacy, whose desert blues changed the face of Malian music and influenced musicians the world over. The life and music of the Malian music legend are examined through the eyes of those who knew him best such as his son, accomplished musician Vieux Farka Toure. Compiled from both interviews and first hand experiences with the guitar master in his desert home in Niafunke, northern Mali.
excerpt from ‘Jahtigui: The Life and Music of Ali Farka Toure’:
Ali Farka Toure bought his first guitar while in Bulgaria on April 21st, 1968. Around this time he first heard the music of Wilson Pickett, James Brown, Otis Redding, Jimmy Smith and Albert King, in which he said he recognized so much of his own musical traditions. But the one whose music struck him as being most similar to his own was the legendary John Lee Hooker. Upon hearing this music for the first time, he was amazed and thought to himself that “this music was taken from here.”
He loved the blues, but often said that his music began long before the blues was born. Many European and American writers were eager to give all the credit to the John Lee Hooker records Ali had heard after his style and approach to music had already fully manifested. He was definitely influenced by the blues he heard on records but he was secure in his musical identity. He often recalled his surprise the first time he heard Hooker, saying, “Where did they get this culture? This is something that belongs to us!”
As for the blues, Ali said, “to me blue is just a color. My music came long before the blues was born.” When he drove across the vast desert of northern Mali in his Land Rover, Ali’s stereo blasted the music of Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Bobby Blue Bland and other blues and soul artists whom he recognized as his musical kinsmen. It didn’t matter to him that much of the English that they sung in was unintelligible to him. Upon learning of the passing of John Lee Hooker in 2001, Ali extended his heartfelt condolences. He knew that they belonged to the same musical family, rooted in the civilizations of ancient Africa.
He celebrated the African root of the blues as common knowledge, though many western audiences did not see the connection so clearly. Many thought it simply impossible that such a long history lay behind the music. Implicit in this idea is that Africans came to the West with no cultural traditions. Ali knew that Black American music has deep roots extending into the ancient empires of West Africa from which Black Americans’ ancestors were torn. He spoke about it often.
Just as European and other immigrant populations in North America persevered and further developed the music of their ancestors, so was the case with Africans in the Americas. Toumani Diabate once said “You can take people…you can take off his clothes, you can take off his shoes, you can take his name and give him another name…. the only thing that you can’t ever take from him is his culture.“ Ali Farka Toure represented the missing link between African music and Black American music. To know his music is to know the source.