Issa Bagayogo

Issa Bagayogo

Timbuktu

Six Degrees

Now this is why I review albums.

I’m a big fan of Six Degrees Records and their commitment to some of the most interesting international artists in the world, but I’m not sure I would have picked this record as something I would love. I’m extremely leery of collabs like this: producer/engineer Yves Wernert gets together with Issa Bagayogo, who comes from Mali and plays guitar and a three-stringed “hunter’s lute” called the kamele n’goni. When I hear about stuff like this, my purist radar starts going crazy — I’ve just heard too much crap where it’s the white dude’s album with the black dude just there for world music indie cred. It’s not authentic and it doesn’t sound good and it’s just hateful.

But this album is far from hateful, and it sounds damned good. Bagayogo has a wonderful, world-weary voice that draws you in from the moment you hear it — I don’t know what the hell he’s singing about, but I’ll listen to it a million times and be hungry for more. All you need to hear is his little mumbling breakdown on “Dama” and you’ll be hooked forever too. And his work on the guitar and the kamele n’goni is simply delicious. He does this kind of slide-guitar thing on “Baro” that would bring Nashville down in a heartbeat if there was any justice, and the simple picking that opens up “Tamagnoko” will break your heart, if you have one.

Most of the tracks are Saharan soul music with a little dance beat to ’em. Wernert does the impossible here: he does just enough to showcase Bagayogo in all his rough, wise glory. The electronic touches are there and not hidden, but neither do they overwhelm anything on the record. He isn’t above a little faddishness (“Gnele” is, for all intents and purposes, a two-step dance track in disguise), but he is overall very respectful of Bagayogo’s talent and style while not being cowed by it.

A joy, this album, and a joy to review it. This is a record to bask in and celebrate the wonderful time we live in, in which we can actually hear CDs like these.

Six Degrees Records: http://www.sixdegreesrecords.com

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