World mourns Ali Farka Toure, king of desert blues

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The legendary African guitarist Ali Farka Toure has died. Toure, who pioneered his distinctive "desert blues" sound on successive albums which won him a global following as well as two Grammy Awards, died in his sleep in his native Mali. He had been suffering from bone cancer and was in his late sixties.

His second Grammy was awarded only last month in the world music category for his newest album In the Heart of the Moon, recorded with his fellow countryman Toumani Diabate. He had just finished work on a solo album when he died.

One of Africa's most successful international artists, he achieved global acclaim with his 1994 album Talking Timbuktu, recorded with the guitarist Ry Cooder.

Farka Toure never strayed for long from his home village of Niafunke, close to Timbuktu on the edge of the Sahara Desert. Indeed, he tried to retire from recording in 1990 to tend his rice farm in the village, which later elected him mayor. However, a producer soon persuaded him to resume recording new songs in a makeshift studio powered by a generator.

He often said his music was born from the soil of the land he loved in northern Mali. Speaking a few years ago about his 1999 album that bore his village's name, he said: "We were in the middle of the landscape which inspired the music and that in turn inspired myself and the musicians. My music is about where I come from and our way of life."

His death robs Mali of one of its most beloved figures. Radio stations suspended programmes to play his music. Mali's Culture Minister, Cheick Oumar Sissoko, said: "Ali was for Mali, for Africa and for the rest of the world a very great musician. A musician who leaves behind him a fabulous heritage. We are receiving phone calls and e-mails from around the world."

World Circuit, the record label that produces his music, said in a statement: "Ali was an exceptional guitarist, who transposed the traditional music of his native north Mali and single-handedly brought the style known as desert blues to an international audience."

His music drew influence from the American blues movement after he discovered the sounds of John Lee Hooker. He said it reminded him of the traditional music of northern Mali.

He released his first album Farka in 1976 then spent months recording and performing in France. Although he remained based in Mali, he toured frequently. His first European tour in 1987 began with a concert at Wembley Stadium. Farka said he was born in 1939, but was never sure of his actual birth date.