There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Africa is the ultimate source of so much American music, but most African pop shows the strong influence of styles actually developed on this side of the Atlantic, including rumba, reggae, funk, and jazz. That’s why Ali Farka Toure’s first recordings to reach the West were such a sensation: He came from Mali, but sounded Mississippi. Singing bluesy laments accompanied by guitar, calabash, and the one-string ndjarka, Toure made music that eerily resembled that of the ’30s Delta-blues groups that employed guitar, washboard, and one-string fiddle. Although Toure has recorded albums with Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder, notably the 1994 world-music hit Talking Timbuktu, he has publicly criticized African musicians (including fellow Malian Salif Keita) for allowing too much Euro-American influence into their music. Toure’s latest album, last year’s Niafunke, was named for the singer-guitarist’s remote home village, to which he returned a few years ago. The sound is characteristically stark, but not haunted in the manner of Delta bluesmen like Robert Johnson. Toure considers his musical skills a gift from the spirits, not a curse from the devil, and Niafunke includes the customary songs of praise to God. “Allah Uya” and “Howkouna” are spare compared to the big-band sound of many West African musicians, but their call-and-response vocals give them an expansive communal spirit. Toure performs with Afel Bocoum at 8 p.m. Friday, July 21, at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium, 730 21st St. NW. $24.50-$26.50. (202) 994-6800. (Mark Jenkins)