A unique tale of a world respected musician, who deep in his heart considered himself but a humble farmer.
Ali Farka Touré was born in 1939 in the village of Kanau on the banks of the River Niger in the north west of Mali. He was his mothers’ tenth son but the first to survive infancy. When Ali was still an infant his father died while serving in the French army, and the family moved south along the river to Niafunké, the village Ali called home for the rest of his life. People make their living by farming, cattle herding and fishing. There is no tradition of music in his family, but he had a calling early on in life, becoming drawn to music by its power. He was a child of the river.
In Niafunké, as in the most of Mali, the dominant religion is Islam and Ali was a devout Muslim. But in this part of the world Islam co-exists with an indigenous belief in the mysterious power of the Niger. It is believed that under the water there are spirits called Ghimbala, male and female djinns with their own character, history, symbolic colors and ritual objects, all vividly portrayed in the local mythology. These djinns control both the spiritual and temporal world. Those who have the gift to communicate with the spirits are called children of the river. He was mesmerized by the music played at Ghimbala spirit ceremonies in the villages along the banks of the Niger. He would sit and listen in awe as musicians sang and played the favored instruments of the spirits; djerkel single string guitar, njarka single string violin and ngoni four string lute, at the age of twelve he fashioned his first instrument, a djerkel guitar.