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'Bluesman of Africa' Ali Farka Toure


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'Bluesman of Africa' Ali Farka Toure

by Jim Fitzgerald

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Ali Farka Toure

BAMAKO, Mali - Two-time Grammy Award winner Ali Farka Toure of Mali, one of Africa's most famous performers, died Tuesday, March 7, after a long illness, Mali's Culture Ministry announced. He was in his late 60s. Toure died at his home in the capital, Bamako, after a long struggle with an unidentified illness, the ministry announced. He was known to be battling cancer.

Toure played a traditional Malian stringed instrument called the gurkel, and was best-known overseas for his 1994 collaboration with American guitarist Ry Cooder on "Talking Timbuktu," which netted him his first Grammy. He won again this year in the traditional world music album category for his "In the Heart of the Moon" album, performed with fellow Malian Toumani Diabate.

Toure was born in 1939 in the northern Sahara Desert trading post of Timbuktu. Like many Africans of his generation, the exact date of his birth was not recorded. Toure learned the gurkel at an early age, later also taking up the guitar at which he was also accomplished. He cited many Western musicians for inspiration, including Ray Charles, Otis Redding and John Lee Hooker.

Toure spent much of his older age in his childhood town of Niafunke, which has become a pilgrimage spot for many music-loving Africans and tourists seeking one of the original progenitors of a genre known as Mali Blues.

Across the deeply impoverished west African nation of Mali, people mourned Toure's passing and radio stations suspended regular play, sending Toure's signature lilting sounds out over airwaves instead.

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