by: Issa Bagayogo

With his third album, Malian Issa Bagayogo and his producers have achieved the perfect balance between roots music and modernity. Techno Issa, as he's nicknamed, is a wonderfully gentle singer, and a very decent player of the kamele n'goni or young man's harp. And this singing are playing are the root of the all the music here, with its influence from the country's Wassoulou region. Add to that some rhythms that are as deep and funky as anything you could find in Muscle Shoals or Memphis, but done so well that they seem to glide in behind the melodies, and subtly drawn backing vocals and other instrumentation, and you have what might be the best mix of the West and Africa yet to come along. It's all done with plenty of restraint, which is the key here, whether on the slow "Joola" or the kicking opening track, "Ciew Mawele." Bagayogo, not the effects and beats, is the centerpiece here, and everything is done to give his songs the perfect frame. On the previous two records the team had been working in this direction, with mixed success. But this time they've nailed it on all 14 cuts. About the only way it could have been better is if he'd been backed by Booker T. & the MG's. This is a record that can grow on both sides of the world. ~ Chris Nickson

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