Ali Farka Toure
When the great Malian musician, Ali Farka Toure, finally succumbed last March to the bone cancer he had been fighting, Africa's music scene lost one of its favourite sons and greatest international stars.
Toure was held in deep affection by African music lovers worldwide, and while record sales in his home country never reached the heights they achieved in Europe and the US, nor his concerts the same number of fans, his death was marked by a period of national mourning and a veritable who's-who of Mali's music stars paid tribute to this exceptional musician.
They all wanted to express their respect for a musician who had done more than most to keep Mali's traditions alive, particularly the traditions of the northern peoples of the Sahara where he was born and raised.
Toure was born in 1939 in the village of Kanau near Gourmararouse on the banks of the River Niger in the north-west of Mali. He was his mother's 10th son, but the first to survive infancy. After his father died while serving in the French army, the family moved south along the river to a home at Niafunke, one of the larger villages scattered around this sparse, arid semi-desert region of Mali.
The people of Niafunke make their living by farming, cattle herding and fishing, and a great deal of work is spent irrigating the land. Toure, was no exception. It says quite a lot about the man that even after achieving international stardom, he still considered himself first and foremost a farmer. And while winning a prestigious Grammy award might have seemed like the pinnacle of a lifetime's achievement, Toure was equally proud of being elected the mayor of Niafunke in 2004.
Toure had no formal schooling and his childhood was taken up by farming, followed by an apprenticeship as a tailor. But he was also mesmerised by the music played at spirit ceremonies in the villages along the banks of...