Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Issa Bagayogo – Dama

For a man of rural origins, it is brilliant that Issa Bagayogo has become the one Malian musician to be given the nick name “Techno-Issa” in recognition to his experimentation with blending traditional music and the electronic samples. Ever brilliant is the fact that the story could have been very different for Bagayogo. Growing up in the 1960s in rural southern Mali he was first introduced to music through the playing of the daro – a bell that keeps farm workers labouring. He then picked up the kamele n’goni and at the age of 30 left his local successes and the difficulties of agricultural life to take a shot at a musical career in Bamako – an equally difficult journey.

He struck some luck in the form of a pair of Frenchmen who had recently opened a studio and needed a n’goni player. Despite this fortune and successfully producing a cassette of his own money was short and he returned home. Two years later he returned to Bamako to produce his second cassette with similar result. However instead of returning home he became an apprentice bus driver, but depression set in and his health deteriorated.

It could have ended this way, but Chris Nickson explains his incredible turn-around:

“Eventually, however, he decided to turn his life around and began playing and singing again. He returned to the studio, where he met French engineer Yves Wernert and Foamed Koné, who’d been a guitarist in Ali Farka Touré’s band. What they wanted to attempt was something radically different for African music, mixing traditional music with beats and samples. At first Bagayogo was unsure, if only because it was so unlike anything he’d done. He’d never worked with drum machines before and the process proved complex. In late 1998, though, Sya was released, selling a phenomenal 15,000 copies and getting Bagayogo an award in 1999 as Malian song’s Brightest New Hope and the nickname of Techno Issa, in addition enabling him to finally quit his job as an apprentice bus driver.”

This week’s song of the week is from the 2002 album he released shortly after called “Timbuktu”. It was an international hit and Techno Issa became a house-hold name. A powerful story of determination and a struggle quite the contrary to the creative and lively jive he has become known for.


Issa Bagyogo – Dama

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