Monday, October 13, 2008

World Review: Issa Bagayogo, Mali Koura

Download the free MP3 "Sebero" from the Issa Bagayogo record Mali Koura Here

We don't post every great press review that our records get on this blog but occasionally something comes along that we really just have to share with you. Charlie Gillett is one of our favorite people in the global music scene. His impeccable taste and intelligence are always in evidence on his BBC 2 radio program, Without Frontiers and in his always intriguing music writing. This guy knows his stuff. So when he posts a 5 star review of one of our records in London's Sunday Observer section of the Guardian, you need to let us crow like proud parents just for a little while...

World review: Issa Bagayogo, Mali Koura
(Six Degrees)

Some influential voices will be dismayed, even horrified, by this combination of Issa Bagayogo's authentic, man-from-the-country sound and a series of propulsive rhythm tracks made from programmed beats and electronic keyboards. I stand with the choir on the other side of the room, to sing the praises of an impressive and consistently enjoyable album from yet another marvellous and unique artist from Mali. How do you say 'it gets better with every play' without it sounding like a cliche? I give up.
Perhaps the closest parallel is to Amadou & Mariam's 2005 album, produced by Manu Chao, although the productions of Willie Mitchell in the early Seventies also come to mind - it's intriguing to imagine Al Green or Ann Peebles slipping into some of these arrangements.

Mali may be best known for music that reveals its roots but its capital, Bamako, has plenty of nightclubs, where the well-dressed take to the floor to be galvanised by DJs who switch between hip hop, R&B, reggae and their local equivalents. In general, there's an unwritten rule that the closer such local records get to matching the sounds of their Western models, the less interested we in the West are likely to be. Somehow Issa Bagayogo and his production team have surmounted this difficulty, developing a trademark sound that uses some Western elements and yet is still so distinctive, you instantly know who the singer is before he has opened his mouth.

Mali Koura is the fourth successive album by Issa Bagoyogo to have been co-produced by Yves Wernert, a Frenchman whose engineer's hands were on the tiller of every significant album recorded in Bamako over the past 10 years. Where previous albums were studio-based, these songs were recorded on location, starting at Issa's home in Wassalou in the south west of Mali, and then moving to Nancy in France, base of a polymath called Gael Le Billan, whose name appears 13 times in the credits, not only playing an astonishing assortment of instruments, but also collaborating in the songwriting, arrangements, production and mixing. He is quite a find, brilliantly integrating slinky saxes and Malian backing vocals, acoustic guitars and Issa's kamele ngoni.

Whether I were a boite DJ in Bamako or a radio DJ in London, I'd go for 'Poye' as first choice, but there are no duff moments on an album which throws up a different highlight depending on the time of day. The uptempo hustle of 'N'Tana' might grate at midnight but right now, at 11am, it sounds perfect. 'Sebero' is just what you'd hope to hear if you discovered you were the first to arrive at a party, filling an empty room without being overbearing. The horn riff in 'Ahe Sira Bila' will come back to haunt you days later.

Mali Koura is a giant leap for a singer who has until now been regarded as a minor player. The time has come for us to add one more name to the pantheon of great Malian artists.

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