Mali’s Culture Ministry said Toure died at his home in the capital, Bamako, after a long struggle with an unidentified illness. He was known to be battling cancer.

Across this deeply impoverished west African nation, people mourned Toure’s passing and radio stations suspended regular programming and instead broadcast Toure’s signature lilting sounds.

Toure, one of the original progenitors of a genre known as Mali Blues, played a traditional Malian stringed instrument called the gurke.

He was best-known overseas for his 1995 collaboration with American guitarist Ry Cooder on Talking Timbuktu, which netted him his first of two Grammys.

He won another Grammy this year in the traditional world music album category for his In the Heart of the Moon album, performed with fellow Malian Toumani Diabate.

Toure was born in 1939 in the northern Sahara Desert trading post of Timbuktu. Like many Africans of his generation, the exact date of his birth was not recorded.

Toure learned the gurkel at an early age, later also taking up the guitar. He cited many Western musicians for inspiration, including Ray Charles, Otis Redding and John Lee Hooker.

He released at least 10 albums and toured often in North America and Europe.

Toure spent much of his older age in his childhood town of Niafunke, which has become a pilgrimage spot for many music-loving Africans and tourists.