Issa Bagayogo | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader
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The music of Mali runs on hypnotic circular riffs--whether played on guitar, the harplike kora, or the oblong lute called the ngoni. These bluesy, repetitive grooves theoretically make an easy fit with electronic dance rhythms, but that doesn't mean the marriage always works in practice. Club remixes of Malian artists like Nahawa Doumbia and Lobi Traore, assembled on the "Frikyiwa" collections by French DJ Frederic Galliano, sound good, but the source material--at once delicate and fierce--is often buried. Malian musician Issa Bagayogo has, over the past few years, developed a more successful and spacious blend of traditional grooves and club beats; he sort of stumbled upon his sound in the late 90s, in a last-ditch effort to find work. Born in 1961, he grew up on a farm, but his ngoni playing and singing persuaded his neighbors that he had talent, so in 1991 he moved to Bamako in hopes of becoming a recording artist. He managed to put out two cassettes, but neither title sold well, and he slunk back home. A few years later he summoned the strength to return to the city and give music one more chance. He met the French producer Yves Wernert, who talked him into incorporating electronics. Sya, their 1998 debut, used beatbox rhythms with great restraint, accenting the brittle ngoni licks and Bagayogo's deep, mesmerizing vocals. It became a big hit in Mali, earning the singer the nickname "Techno Issa." He lives up to the handle on the new Timbuktu (released in the U.S. like its predecessor by Six Degrees), where the programmed beats are more prominent and sometimes the acoustic instruments are more distant--aside from some spare flute and guitar, "Dambalou" sounds like a pure studio confection. Still, every song is anchored by Bagayogo's forceful singing and those looping riffs. Bagayogo is in the States as part of the Vive la World package tour, which in Chicago is split among three different venues on the same day: Algerian singer Cheikha Remitti (see separate Critic's Choice) is at HotHouse, the Cuban-French dance group P18 is at Chicago Summerdance in Grant Park, and Bagayogo plays Saturday, July 6, at 5:30 PM, at the Taste of Chicago's Summertime Taste Stage, Grant Park, Balbo and Columbus; 312-744-3370.

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