Monday, March 24, 2008

Mali Monday #6: Issa Bagayogo

Onstage with his kamele n'goni. Image found here.

Biography, rather adventurously translated from the original French.

Page at Six Degrees Records.

I'm running a bit late in posting this installment--apologies.

I no longer remember just how it was that five years ago I came to learn about Sya, Bagayogo's first album but second U.S. release. But no matter. It's in large measure due to my hearing Sya back then that caused me to want to seek out more music from Mali and, now, want to share a bit of that with you in these posts.

Of the artists I've posted about so far here, Bagayogo is the one who most fully embraces Western styles and production values in his music-making. But what makes Sya so striking is that "embrace" isn't quite the right word: it's more like a seamless melding of Malian and Western-pop sensibilities on the common ground of a groove that will. not. stop. but doesn't lapse into thump-thumpiness. The overall feel is that of music that, as stated in the Six Degrees link above regarding his third album, Tassoumakan, is "gritty, organic . . . , even when at its most electronic. There's no sense of something Western being imposed on a native tradition." It feels genuinely new yet familiar, too.

By way of illustration, here are the first two tracks from Sya, the title track and "Gnangran." In each, you can hear Bagayogo's kamele n'goni's simultaneous melodic and percussive qualities to it, adding yet another layer of rhythm to each song.

Speaking personally, his U.S. debut (but actually his second album), Timbuktu and most recent album, Tassoumakan, tilt the musical balance West-ward a bit much for my tastes. Sya's music feels spacious, giving the record a "live," almost acoustic feel, but these records seem intent on filling up those spaces. They're not at all bad records; they're just not Sya. Tassoumakan was released in 2004; nothing more recent turned up while I gathered material for this post.

Alas, no performance videos this time. The one live performance video consists of him clapping his hands onstage with a bunch of other people at a performance in California. For those interested, though, this takes you to some videos for songs from Timbuktu and Tassoumakan; they range in quality from cheap to state of the art . . . and one in particular will be startling to us in the States who have become attuned to and revulsed by certain caricatures of black people. Just so you know.

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