Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Issa Bagayogo

  • Sya [Cobalt, 1999] **
  • Timbuktu [Six Degrees, 2002] A-
  • Tassoumakan [Six Degrees, 2004] ***
  • Mali Koura [Six Degrees, 2008] B+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Sya [Cobalt, 1999]
Mali's great circle, described with the help of a drum machine ("Sya," "Gnangran"). **

Timbuktu [Six Degrees, 2002]
After surfacing as a singer expert on the three-stringed kamalé ngoni droning over a drum machine so spare the naive might call it primitive, he leaves the settings to Ali Farka Toure sideman Koko Dembélé and label owner Yves Wernert, who fashion a world music amalgam slyer and slinkier than any kora fusion. True, there are moments when the production almost drowns in comforting gestures. But the groove always rights itself, and the sound effects are obtrusive enough to give kora fans a salutary case of the jitters. A-

Tassoumakan [Six Degrees, 2004]
The finest Afro-European rhythmic structures Mali can provide ("Diama Don," "Dya"). ***

Mali Koura [Six Degrees, 2008]
Like all dance music, this is designed for a big space and bigger speakers--at home, it can dissolve into background music unless you turn it up. But at any volume it will jump out on the very African "Dibi," which is jazzy nevertheless, and the fast-moving "Dunu Kan," its funk and reggae tinges crossed up slyly if not perversely by Bagayogo's herky-jerk flow. Which is to say, Play Loud. Hear cultural exchange evolve into true fusion, even on the loungey "Tcheni Tchemakan" you'll wish he'd never tried. B+