Ali Farka Toure
The most well-known African guitarist in history, Ali Farka Toure enthralled fans around the world with his deep-rooted, bluesy music. He played both acoustic and electric guitars (including a guitar with a speaker and pick-up that ran on batteries) as well as a shrill one-string violin, and was usually accompanied by a percussionist playing a calabash gourd with sticks. He made his initial mark in Mali's capital, Bamako, and later in Paris as a virtuoso guitarist and singer of traditionally inspired songs. His first performance in London in the late 1980s convinced musicologists that they had discovered the roots of the blues; however upon further inquiry, he cited John Lee Hooker as an influence. However, while his deep, nasal-toned voice and blues-like riffs remind one of the Mississippi Delta, the spirit of his music goes back centuries to ancient Malian folklore. He went on to record with the Chieftains, Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder, while his landmark 1994 collaboration with Cooder, Talking Timbuktu, spent a record eight months atop Billboard's world music charts. In 2005 he recorded his final two albums, one of which -- his collaboration with Toumani Diabate, In The Heart of the Moon -- won a Grammy award in 2006, just before Toure succumbed to bone cancer at the age of 67.