Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Ali Farka Touré

  • Ali Farka Touré [Mango, 1988] B
  • The River [World Circuit, 1990] A-
  • The Source [World Circuit, 1992] **
  • Niafunké [Hannibal, 1999] A-
  • Radio Mali [World Circuit/Nonesuch, 1999] Neither
  • Savane [World Circuit/Nonesuch, 2006] *

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Ali Farka Touré [Mango, 1988]
A Malian whose guitar owes onetime employer John Lee Hooker, Toure fascinates students of the Africa-blues connection, and his side-openers and foot-stomping Hook tribute are good to hear. Nevertheless, I prefer my blues with a rhythm section. I also prefer Hook. B

The River [World Circuit, 1990]
As a self-taught guitarist who's rarely reviewed without reference to John Lee Hooker, Toure is conflicted about Afro-American music--does he owe it or does it owe him? And although he always displays the guitar style that occasions the comparison (which I'm betting is part influence, part tradition, and part invention), his recordings drift into the folkloric. So it's a relief that unlike Mango's Ali Farka Toure or Shanachie's African Blues, this one means to cross over a bit. Not only does it make room for a second human being (Amadou Cisse on calabash, the percussion device that Toure overdubs on his Mango release), but tracks colored with harmonica, saxophone, fiddle and bodhran, and the single-stringed njarka that Toure picks up for the finale--not to mention an extra edge of vocal command. I don't know what Malians will think. But I say the result is variety, not compromise. And I say it's what he's always needed. A-

The Source [World Circuit, 1992]
in a ruminative mood, with a band cogitating in ("Goye Kur," "Dofana") **

Niafunké [Hannibal, 1999]
In Mali a little goes a long way, so after his harrowing experience with Ry Cooder's sense of rhythm the artfully primeval guitarist-vocalist took his modest winnings back to the well-named title village, where he devoted himself to making green things grow. Finally, after five years, he surrounds himself entirely with homeboys and reemerges with a record "full of important messages for Africans." Over here he doesn't "expect people to understand," and of course we don't. But when it comes to evoking a sun-baked place where a little goes a long way, you couldn't beat these hymns, homilies, wedding songs, dance tunes, and we-are-what-we-are apostrophes with a trap set. A-

Radio Mali [World Circuit/Nonesuch, 1999] Neither

Savane [World Circuit/Nonesuch, 2006]
Grave to the grave ("Yer Bounda Fara," "Ledi Coumbe"). *