Mali’s “Lion of the Desert,” the guitarist Ali Farka Touré, and the “Grand Prince of Kora,” Toumani Diabaté, have been making music. Not only is In The Heart Of The Moon the first new recording for either artist in half a decade, it is an unusual pairing “I am Arma and Toumani is a Griot,” Ali explains. “I am from the Songrai/Peul culture in the north and he is a Mandé from the south. It’s rare that musicians meet like this from different traditions.”
Touré’s career has spanned over 40 years—his first international concert in 1987, regular album releases since the late ’80s and a Grammy in 1994—and now in his 60s he is still touring extensively.
Although he is famous for what has been called his “Malian Blues” style, that’s a label Touré has always fought against. “Here in Mali we don’t have the ‘blues.’ It doesn’t exist. No Malian would be able to say to you, ‘That’s blues music.’ If he says that he’s lying. If you say ‘blues’ he’ll go and find you a doctor… and that’s the truth.”
He continues, “When people say, ‘You are the blues man,’ it annoys me because I know that what I do is traditional to this culture and it’s, above all, the roots of this culture.”
Using instruments, rhythms and tone that can only be from this part of the continent, Touré insists he is playing the oldest form of music. “What I know is from traditional guitarists, traditional violinists, bamboo flutes. These are sounds that are two or three thousand years old. Our empire is what has given me the strength to express myself and to create.”
As for Touré’s newest collaborator, Toumani Diabaté has been drawn to unusual collaborations throughout his career. Since his debut at 21 with the 1987 album Kaira, his discography includes two albums with the Spanish group Ketama and another with the blues musician Taj Mahal.
Like Touré, Toumani also draws inspiration from Mali’s musical heritage: “You know there are a lot of mixtures of types of music everywhere today. The Africans are mixing their music with the Europeans, the Americans, the Asians. But often it’s important to go back to your roots to discover things that are more interesting, more concrete, and clean and simple, which represent truth.”