Acclaimed blues guitarist and 2007 MacArthur fellowship recipient Corey Harris recently announced an ambitious new Kickstarter-funded project dedicated to the late Malian guitarist Ali Farka Touré. Harris and Touré explored the connections between American blues and traditional Malian music with Harris’ 2003 album Mississippi to Mali and Martin Scorsese’s PBS blues documentary Feel Like Going Home. Starting in June, Harris will again travel to Mali, this time to interview members of Touré’s inner circle, including his son Vieux Farka Touré and collaborater Toumani Diabaté. He plans to compile a biography to publish by the end of the year.
Thanks in part to support from globe-trotting slide guitarist Ry Cooder during the Nineties, Touré was one of Mali’s most important musicians when he died from cancer in 2006 (He took the 76th spot on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists list.) But as the Kickstarter page points out, “Presently, there is no comprehensive study of the man and his music.”
“Normally when a great artist passes, you expect to see something come out within a year or two, a book or something chronicling his life, but all I saw was a scattering of news articles,” says Harris. “I was inspired to let other people know more about his journey.” He also plans to release an accompanying album of compositions inspired by Touré and performed with other Malian musicians.
Touré’s influence extended well beyond music in Mali, where his business and investment undertakings made him a substantial economic force. In 2004 he was even elected mayor of his hometown of Niafunké.
“He wasn’t just an artist for the sake of it,” says Harris. “His life and his music was about roots, tradition, and morality.”