Welcome to Ali Farka time. Ali starts late and thanks the audience for their patience in French. At a beautifully languid pace he rolls his earthy sound into gear. His performance opens with a full band but his guitar, voice and the calabash dominate as on his recordings
Between songs he retunes in his unhurried way. This is a musician who is sure of the worth of his gifts to the world. At times his music is achingly Malian and at others flirting heavily with the blues — even if he would never call it that.
The audience are his from the off but in the latter part of the first half, circling each other at times like two cocks, the interplay between him and the ngoni player Basekou Kouyate is dazzling, heart stopping stuff. And then there is the voice: always nasal and at times almost a drone, it is somehow one of the most distinctive and beautiful sounds — he feels this music so deeply that you can do nothing but follow him.
Those in the know, however, are waiting for the promised duet with Toumani Diabaté the master kora player. Having already been entranced by their magical album In the Heart of the Moon, the prospect of seeing them vibe off each other live is one that has captured the imagination of many in the packed hall. The thought that this is probably the only opportunity most of us will ever have to see these two masters at work in one place adds even greater poignancy.
With such a level of expectation, there is always the posibility of disappointment, instead, perhaps bidden from the sprites of the River Niger came this densely beatifully weaving of strings as kora and guitar slid between and around each other like the wispy sticks in some incredibly ornate basket compiling and unravelling themselves at great speed. Beautiful, compelling and as precious as it was fleeting. You wanted to hold on to the sounds but disappear they must and did. As Ali himself said, Toumani is a prophet on the kora and we were cruelly robbed of his time as he only played a few duets with Ali before hobbling off.
In Ali Farka time, the temporal universe itself seems momentarily suspended but alas it is only an illusion and in a blink it is all over.
Pictures of Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté playing the Barbican here on our sister site Flykr
Read our unique interview with Ali Farka Touré at his house in Bamako
Read the review of In the Heart of the Moon
Also released recently are the wonderful Red and Green albums
Read about Ali playing the Segou Festival in Mali and see Lydia Martin’s pictures of the event on Flykr
–Image by Damian Rafferty–