Ali Farka Toure sometimes sounds like he has one foot planted in the Mississippi Delta and the other in the Niger. His work is deeply rooted in Malian tradition; in one interview he explained that he sings about “education, work, love, and society.” But although he sings exclusively in West African languages, he sounds like a country bluesman. His guitar work betrays his admiration for John Lee Hooker, and there’s also a formal resemblance: Malian griot songs and the blues both rely on pentatonic scales and repetition. Toure has been widely touted as a missing link between African and African American folk forms, which has led to collaborations with an unlikely assortment of musicians: Taj Mahal, the Chieftains, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, and most recently Ry Cooder (who also received a Grammy this year for his collaboration with Indian slide guitarist V.M. Bhatt). It’s a testament to the strength of Toure’s artistic vision that he absorbs their contributions but always ends up sounding like himself. His most vital accompanists remain his two-man backup band, Groupe Asko; their intricate vocal harmonies and percussion set his ringing, hypnotic guitar and keening voice in stark relief. Toure is a farmer who has retired from music for years at a time to cultivate the land, which makes it doubly advisable that you not miss his Chicago debut. Saturday, 7 and 10 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 909 W. Armitage; 561-7561 or 525-7793.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/John Mided.