ALI FARKA TOURE, with AFEL BOCOUM, at Harbourfront Centre's Main Stage, August 11. Tickets: $27. Attendance: 1,800. Rating: NNNN
Those who came to Harbourfront Centre expecting Ali Farka Toure's long-time guitar intern Afel Bocoum to be merely an inferior knock-off of his mentor were in for a pleasant surprise.
Of course, it's only natural that Bocoum has copped some of Toure's moves after 32 years together. Yet while the Toure influence shows up in his student's picking technique, the whole tone and texture is radically different. Bocoum doesn't even sound West African.
He sings in a much higher register, and his trebly, quick-picked acoustic guitar leads accompanied by the banjo plink of ngoni and the shrill squawk of the single-string njdarka fiddle came together like some haunting Middle Eastern variant of bluegrass.
If Bocoum ever turned up at a barn dance in West Virginia playing this stuff, he'd be welcomed as long-lost kin. Well, theoretically maybe.
What Toure put down, however, was altogether more bluesy. A little bit of Lightnin' Hopkins Delta drone and a mess of John Lee Hooker's dirty boogie combined with Toure's nasal vocal delivery somehow brought to mind Slim Harpo. If the introductory announcement is to be believed, this was the last show of Toure's final tour. Maybe so, but the moody Malian guitar shaman was in uncommonly good spirits and kept a smile on his face the whole night.
At first he just seemed delighted to be back at the lakeside venue with a few thousand admirers, but his guitar hero poses -- ripping through runs with his headstock raised high --made it clear he was playing to a camera swooping overhead. The concert, it turns out, was being filmed for commercial release by his World Circuit label. In any case, the audience was treated to a rare glimpse of the string-slinger at his exuberant best.