The famously eccentric Malian guitarist and singer Ali Farka Toure is one of the original world music stars. Ever since the mid eighties, his spare take on a rich variety of styles from West Africa's major musical power-house has cast its spell on foreign ears, excited by the obvious connections between his pulsing desert blues and its African-American counterpart.
But unlike many of his contemporaries, the international acclaim bestowed on this mysterious and deeply charismatic performer since his eponymous World Circuit debut in 1987 hasn't inspired a move to Paris or London. Instead, he's continued to farm his land in the small town of Niafunke not far from Timbuktu touring infrequently, recording only sporadically and threatening retirement with an almost comic regularity.
The prosaic title of this beautifully packaged and remastered double CD set refers to the sleeve colours of the original albums, the last two of seven untitled discs he released on the Paris-based Sonodisc label between 1975 and 1988. Selections from the first five were reissued on World Circuit as Radio Mali in 1996, so this completes the picture of his early career, before he started using electric guitar and having celebrity guests on his albums.
Old fans will recognise several tunes and riffs which have been reworked or reinterpreted on his subsequent international releases. Apart from some ngoni (the four-stringed West African lute, considered to be a precursor of the banjo) on Green, Ali is usually accompanied by the click and boom of calabash, played by his long term sidekick, Hamma Sankare. The evocatively monickered sorcerer's apprentice has an almost boyish voice, which contrasts with Ali's authoritatively nasal lead vocals.
These sparsely arranged recordings may be a little hard going for the novice, who is advised to first check out more accessible albums like The Source (1992) or Talking Timbuktu (1994). But whether you're new to his music or not, there's no mistaking the broad appeal of his hypnotically droning and sparkling guitar. And to those hankering for new material, this will be a taster for his forthcoming solo album as well as a hotly anticipated duet album with kora maestro Toumani Diabate.