Ali Farka Toure is an African musician who is a virtuoso on the guitar. He lives in the village of Nia Founke, near his birthplace in the Timbuktu region of northern Mali, but sometimes tours internationally. His most recent recording, "Niafunke", was released in 1999. In 1994, he released "Talking Timbuktu", a collaboration with Ry Cooder, which was the first album ever to debut at #1 on Billboard's World Music Chart. It also earned a Grammy.

Toure was born in 1939 into a noble family. It was the custom in his birthplace for the son of a musician to become a musician, but not others. Although Toure's father was not a musician, Toure felt called to that profession and bucked tradition to learn the gurkel (a one-stringed guitar) and njarka (a one-stringed fiddle). He became inspired to master the guitar after hearing Guinean guitarist Ketita Fodeba in 1956.

Ali Farka Toure's music is characterized by traditional Malian melodies, and these sound quite bluesy to most ears. Interestingly, when Toure first heard blues artist John Lee Hooker he thought he was playing music from Mali. Now he believes that the American blues originated with Malian music.

Toure is a world-famous musician, but chooses to live as a rice farmer. His producer couldn't get him to come into the studio to make his last album, "Niafunke", so it was recorded in an abandoned brick building in his village. The production crew brought in a generator and all the gear, and had to wait until after he was done for the day with his chores. Toure's friends and family played backup percussion and vocals. The informal "jam session" feel of this recording is evident, but only in its relaxed, easy musicality; Toure's mastery of the strings is still impeccable. He describes "Niafunke" as a "more real, more authentic" album because "it was recorded in the place where the music belongs -- deep Mali. We were in the middle of the landscape that inspired the music and that in turn inspired myself and the musicians."

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