Ali and Toumani – their finest collaboration

I’ve just bought an album that has to go down as one of the most spectacular of the year, and it’s been carried off by two of my favourite artists: Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabate. But you’re probably asking the question, how can Ali return from the grave to record an album? Well, this was his very last, recorded while he was suffering in his final days. For those familiar with these two virtuoso’s prior collaboration, In the Heart of the Moon which was released in 2004, this final recording session was made the following year, but clearly the release has been held back for an opportune moment.

I’m not sure quite how to express the impact that these two artists have had on my musical awakening. Toumani with the Kora, and Ali Farka Toure with his guitar. I think the fact that I do not understand the language being sung (on Ali’s other albums) creates a further distance between me and the artist. I’ve always been an instrumentalist, liking moods and passages creates by sounds and noise over lyrics trying to tell me a story.

The two albums are subtly different. With the former Toumani’s playing features much more strongly, the Kora has more attitude and takes a greater centre stage. It was Toumani’s first major performance on the international stage and Ali gave the protege the chance to shine. Since that first release Toumani has gone on to produce a further 3 albums and has appeared on numerous collaborative projects.

In ‘Ali and Tomani’ they are one. Even if just 12 months seperate the recording there is a perfect harmony and balance between the instruments. The Kora is less aggressive and blends seamlessly with Ali’s playing. For me, track of the album has to be “Soumbou Ya Ya”. It’s just pure Ali and Toumani sharing the love of their instruments. Not since Ali teamed up with Ry Cooder (‘Talking Timbuktu’) has there been such competiting collaboration.

Rest in peace Ali, you went out on the highest plateau.

Let’s start our journey right here

Fado GuitarWe start our journey with an album that is still affecting me more than 2 years after I purchased it. As much as when I became entranced by Antonio Carlos Jobin’s ‘the composer of desifinado plays’ . It has a similar simple style with beautiful acoustic playing, but it does not derive its influences from the soft Samba sounds, but the more melancholic depths of Portuguese Fado.

Fado music has a strong reflective component to its narrative and its name is drawn from the Latin word “fatum” meaning fate, and the inexorable destiny that nothing can change! It is a music that looks back on history with awe, held strong in the belief that everything was wonderful once upon a time, and now it’s all gone wrong.

Having said that, what this album manages to achieve, due to the dexterity and skill of Mario Pacheco’s finger plucking and the ensemble’s collective mastery in their own instrumentation, and where so many other Fado albums might leave you reaching for the gun and a family photo, is how it throws glorous rays of light over a music that can become a little depressing after prolongued exposure. What’s also impressive is the collection of soloists that have been pulled together and feature on this album; Mariza, Ana Sofia Varela and Rodrigo Costa Felix arejust some of the heavyweights on board for the show.

Mario Pacheko himself is a master of the Portuguese Guitar, an instrument with origins in taken from the Western European Cithern and comprised of 12 steel strings with a sound more akin to a harpsichord than the classic guitar we all know and love . Compared to the sunny tones of Modeste or the meditative Afel Bocoum, the Portuguese guitar has a much colder edge which is why it compliments Fado music so well, adding even greater historical distance to the music’s lyrical content, and the past it reflects on.

The album you can discover this is, ‘Mário Pacheco – Música e a Guitarra‘ and audiophiles will not be disappointed by the recording quality of the performance, despite being played to a live audience. It also comes with a DVD of the entire concer which is simply magical.

If you buy just one Fado music album in your life, make sure it’s this one.