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on 7 November 2008
Some influential voices will be dismayed, even horrified, by this combination of Issa Bagayogo's authentic, man-from-the-country sound and a series of propulsive rhythm tracks made from programmed beats and keyboards. I stand with the choir on the other side of the room, to sing the praises of an impressive and consistently enjoyable album from yet another marvellous and unique artist from Mali. How do you say 'it gets better with every play' without it sounding like a cliche? I give up.

Perhaps the closest parallel is to Amadou & Mariam's 2005 album, produced by Manu Chao, although the productions of Willie Mitchell in the early Seventies also come to mind - it's intriguing to imagine Al Green or Ann Peebles slipping into some of these arrangements.

Mali may be best known for music that reveals its roots but its capital, Bamako, has plenty of nightclubs, where the well-dressed take to the floor to be galvanised by DJs who switch between hip hop, R&B, reggae and their local equivalents. In general, there's an unwritten rule that the closer such local records get to matching the sounds of their Western models, the less interested we in the West are likely to be. Somehow Issa Bagayogo and his production team have surmounted this difficulty, developing a trademark sound that uses some Western elements and yet is still so distinctive, you instantly know who the singer is before he has opened his mouth.

Mali Koura is the fourth successive album by Issa Bagoyogo to have been co-produced by Yves Wernert, a Frenchman whose engineer's hands were on the tiller of every significant album recorded in Bamako over the past 10 years. Where previous albums were studio-based, these songs were recorded on location, starting at Issa's home in Wassalou in the south west of Mali, and then moving to Nancy in France, base of a polymath called Gael Le Billan, whose name appears 13 times in the credits, not only playing an astonishing assortment of instruments, but also collaborating in the songwriting, arrangements, production and mixing. He is quite a find, brilliantly integrating slinky saxes and Malian backing vocals, acoustic guitars and Issa's kamele ngoni.

Whether I were a boite DJ in Bamako or a radio DJ in London, I'd go for 'Poye' as first choice, but there are no duff moments on an album which throws up a different highlight depending on the time of day. The uptempo hustle of 'N'Tana' might grate at midnight but right now, at 11am, it sounds perfect. 'Sebero' is just what you'd hope to hear if you discovered you were the first to arrive at a party, filling an empty room without being overbearing. The horn riff in 'Ahe Sira Bila' will come back to haunt you days later.

Mali Koura is a giant leap for a singer who has until now been regarded as a minor player. The time has come for us to add one more name to the pantheon of great Malian artists.
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on 26 April 2010
If you like 1 Giant Leap, Youssou N'Dour etc etc this is in the same groove. Purely on a dance beat level, its irresistable. Check the intricate production on headphones (the Hi-Fi mags call it 'involving') and it'll take you to another place entirely.
Couldn't agree more with my fellow reviewer - hopefully two five star plugs will encourage others aboard. Stand out track for me is 'Dibi'. Another blog called this an African equivalent of 'Bitches Brew' - praise indeed.
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on 14 November 2010
I've had 'Timbuktu' for some years and really love it and recently stuck it on my MP3 player and have found it great to cycle with -something of the strong rhythm helps.

So time to try 'Mali Koura'? The version Amazon sells is an imprint from Six Degrees Records in the US and on their notes they express an interest in 'Genre Bending Hybrids' which this most certainly is - a wonderful blend of traditional west African instruments, those gorgeous womens voices backing some tracks and interleaved with strands of jazz and funk on many. I've heard this artist described as 'TechnoIssa' which is almost an insult - there is just so much more here. The way that Issa uses his voice almost as a musical instrument e.g on Paye, Fimani and Dunukan is superb. James Brown influence is certainly here on Dunukan. I love it. Favourites? Well Sebero, Paye and Dunukan for me.
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