Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabaté Ali & Toumani (4.5*)

Friday, 31 December 2010

Somewhere around the world there may well be another instrument which delivers some of the sonic characters of the West African kora, but, if there is, I'm yet to discover it.I first encountered the instrument through In The Heart of the Moon, an Ali Farka Touré collaboration  with Toumani Diabaté and was impressed enough to immediately grab a copy of Boulevard de l’Independence, the quite wonderful disk by Toumani Diabaté's Symmetric Orchestra, and the news that this disk had turned up on the release schedule was enough to have me heading over to the iTunes for an immediate purchase.

Ali Farka Touré left us four years ago after a battle with bone cancer, so we're not likely to see many more releases between two fine musicians who were apparently firmly attached to their musical roots. The kora, which delivers a shimmering cascade of notes quite unlike anything else I've heard, invariably reminds me of a track off the first album by Hatfield & The North. The track's called Going Up to People and Tinkling, and tinkling is the descriptor that invariably springs to mind when you're talking kora.

And it's the sonic elements that are the key here, since there's not much chance of getting a handle on the lyrics involved. Actually, you could, but you'd need a working knowledge of Songhay, Fulfulde, Tamasheq or Bambara and other languages from the region. If that's not the case you're going to be left relying on the explanations in the digital booklet that comes with the download and whatever your ears pick up.

So, in the end, it's all about sound, and the sound's all about the interaction between Touré's guitar and the kora, and the interaction is rather magical. Recorded prior to concerts in London, Rome and Nice with Touré in considerable pain, the album draws on material from a variety of sources, some of them unfamiliar to one or other of the players. Definitely worth investigating.

© Ian Hughes 2012