Sidi Touré brings Malian music to World Cafe Live

Sidi Touré performed at World Cafe Live with other Malian musicians.
Sidi Touré performed at World Cafe Live with other Malian musicians. (JONATHAN CRAWFORD)
Posted: August 09, 2012

While Sidi Touré, the musician from northern Mali, performed his culture's music at World Cafe Live on Tuesday, the area near Gao, his hometown, was under siege from Islamist insurgents. Here on tour, Touré didn't spend much time talking about the conflict back home, but his gentle brand of West African folk-blues served as a statement of hope and perseverance.

With his ensemble (calabash percussion, a Malian guitar, and a traditional one-stringed violin), Touré almost exclusively played selections from his latest album, Koima.

Touré, like fellow Malian bluesmen Ali Farka Touré and Vieux Farka Touré - Sidi shares nationality, a surname, and clan identification with that father-son combo but is not closely related - plays a string-heavy, hypnotic style of music (styles, to be exact) that recalls the lamentations and emotional pull of the blues.

On Tuesday, the 52-year-old bandleader said in French that he had not known anything about the blues until he heard a John Lee Hooker tape as a young adult. With its insistent ostinato, Touré's exhortations and ululations, and incisive guitar solos, "Tondi Karaa" was one of his most obvious references to the American art form.

And "Hoga," which Touré first recorded in 1998, had a fascinating chord structure and funky backbeat reminiscent of "Green Onions." Guitarist Khalil Touré, majestic in Sahelian veil and robes, had the most fascinating juxtaposition of roles; at times his runs, almost bop style, exactly mirrored those of Sidi Touré but had a radically different timbre. Other times, the instrument provided bass; the band's style, subtle and gentle as it is, often lacked heft.

The percussionist, Alassane Samake, on gourd, handled two distinct duties - his sticks clicked quickly, precisely, and insistently, providing polyrhythms, while his palm on the massive gourd he straddled and cradled brought deep bass notes and bottom.

The Songhai people and others of Touré's region in Mali are overwhelmingly Muslim, but their culture is both Sahelian and coastal West African - a mix of traditional beliefs and Islam that angers the Wahhabi invaders who have Mali under siege now.

"Woy Tiladio," Touré's paean to an ancient water goddess, contained the same insistent rhythms of voodoo music, but the incremental pace of the buildup and the trance-inducing keening of the one-stringed violin sounded more like the music of the whirling dervishes from another part of the Islamic world.

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