No stranger to these pages, when Malian master musician Ali Farka Touré died earlier this year the tributes paid to him were truly global. A guitarist who was ensconced in his own Fulani and Songhai traditions, Touré also represented the diaspora of the blues, while simultaneously making links, in his lovely, lilting rhythms and circular melodies, to music that took in classical minimalism, trance styles and more. Savane is last in the trio of the so-called Hotel Mande sessions recorded in Bamako with a small recording unit. Unlike In the Heart of the Moon and the Symmetric Orchestra (both with Toumani Diabaté), Savane has a different feel, one that’s more raw, closer to an organic link with community and ancient traditions.
‘Erdi’, the twanging opener, is a Peul song about winning pastureland; ‘Beto’ – enhanced with sax from Pee Wee Ellis, blower extraordinaire to James Brown – is a dance for spirits and one that expresses a calm in the face of natural cycles, birth and death chief amongst them. The album’s title track (which translates as ‘Savannah’) is a taut affair for what’s mainly a trio – Touré’s guitar with Mama Sissoko and Bassekou Kouyate on ngoni (West African lute). ‘I left my country and my Louisiana,’ the song begins: it’s a clear statement of solidarity with the poor of New Orleans and it’s one that, in a way, completes a circle. West Africa gave the American South the blues. That Touré is lamenting his own ancestors in this song has a fitting and closing poignancy.Louise Gray