Issa Bagayogo ‘Mali Koura’ (Six Degrees) 5/5

Excellent release from yet another wonderful Malian artist, with great production, from Yves Wernert and Philippe Berthier, neatly mixing the rural sound with a raw funkiness and Western dance loops. Gael Le Billan is a major player as well, not only as an arranger but also adding a whole range of playing from acoustic guitar to sax to this album of many flavours. Issa Bagayogo is clearly with this CD ready to find a bigger audience, I recommend you are one of them.

Graham Radley

Issa Bagayogo has been a recording artist for just over a decade and thus far has primarily focused on rootsy acoustic Malian music. While generally well received, his music has yet to be perceived among the premier league of African singers. This may be about to change with the release of ‘Mali Koura’, a stunning collaboration between West African and French musicians and one in which the exceptional production chores have resulted in the musical marriage of two continents where creativity, sensitivity and mutual respect are all in evidence. Not unlike the production talents of Manu Chao with Amadou and Mariam in bringing the music of the latter to a wider audience, multi-instrumentalist Gael Le Billan and producers Yves Wernert and Philippe Berthier have come up with a winning combination. Recorded at Issa’s home in Wassalou, south west Mali, but with further instrumentation added at the supremely eclectic Le Billan’s home in Nancy, eastern France, this is a highly inventive mix of tradition and new technology.

Possibly the stand out track is the infectous ‘Poye’ with its lovely use of percussion in harmony with the duet vocals and Malian violin thrown into the rootsy mix. However, this is an exceptionally strong album throughout. The uplifting ‘Dibi’ impresses with keyboards acting as surrogate brass while ‘N’Tana’ is a busy, bustling song that incorporates complex rhythms that build in intensity. Contrast these with the altogether jazzier feel to ‘Ahe Sira Bila’ with nice use of guitar and the opener ‘Sebero’ with a stronger emphasis on electronics, and you have a superbly well balanced and diverse album. Unquestionably one of the world roots albums of the year and a major surprise arriving at the very end too.

Tim Stenhouse