Album number four from the Malian singer who earned the nickname 'Techno-Issa' by combining the rolling riffs of his kamele ngoni with programmed rhythm tracks and electronic effects, and it’s probably his best, most accessible yet.
In fact, the 'Techno' prefix appears to have been sensibly dropped by Issa's PR team in the publicity for Mali Koura, reflecting the softening of the beats by producer Yves Wernert, utilising them as a more organic-sounding support framework for the interplay between dry, scratched ngoni, electric guitar (Mama Sissoko again on excellent form) and horns rather than relentlessly driving the songs as they have done at times on past Bagayogo albums.
French multi-instrumentalist Gael Le Billan takes major credit for employing warm, sympathetic arrangements, adding soulful horn arrangements and jazzy piano as well as an array of surreptitiously employed traditional and electronic instruments. Issa's gritty baritone voice – which to these ears suffered from a tendency towards monochrome repetitiveness in the past - sounds more varied than ever, helped in large part by backing singer Pamela Mapaha's bright colourful timbre, which is brought to the fore time and again to add melodic lustre to Issa's part-spoken, repeat-phrase vocal technique.
With a combination of the downbeat (Issa always seems to manage to relax without recourse to entering the lounge), one or two out-and-out bouncy floor fillers, and a series of consistently engaging, intricately blended shimmering mid-tempo songs, Mali Koura is Issa Bagayogo's high-water mark album to date, and a further fulfilment of his complex and original talent.