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Bako Dagnon - Sidiba

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Artist: Bako Dagnon

Album: Sidiba

Label: Syllart

Review date: Jun. 17, 2010

As anyone even on the peripheries of the music world knows, there are musicians that are known by the public, and then there are musicians’ musicians, artists who have established themselves at the heart of a creative community without achieving broader recognition. In the pantheon of musicians from Mali, Senegal and the Gambia, one such person is Bako Dagnon. She has long acted behind the scenes of the rise of singers and musicians much better known in the U.S. and Europe, including Salif Keita, Souley Kanté, Youssou N’Dour, Ali Farka Touré, Toumani Diabate and Oumou Sangare, but only recently began to reach beyond Mali.

Sidiba is just her second disc aimed at a European and American market. Produced by the legendary Senegalese impresario Ibrahim Sylla for his Syllart label, Sidiba provides a platform for Dagnon to showcase her command of tradition (she sings in all the major languages of the region, her songs representing griot and non-griot traditions), as well as her vital role behind more popular forms.

Listeners familiar with the wassoulou style made famous by Sangare will find some similarity with a few of the songs on this disc, but Dagnon has a very different voice, both in terms of her vocals (lower-pitched, smokier, a bit gravelly at times) and in the artistic sense. Sylla signals the difference right from the opening cut, “Wouya larana,” which, while resembling traditional wassoulou, has understated electronics in the background. While there are a handful of cuts (most notably “NOuhumba” and “Tiga”) to delight purists, Dagnon makes good use of top-notch instrumentalists, including legendary electric guitarist Mama Cissoko, kamal ngoni master Souley Kanté, and Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen (on “Le guide de la revolution”) Cissoko, in particular, longtime collaborator with Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabate, lends a strong electric blues feel to cuts such as “M’Ba” and “Ba djigui,” the latter an instrumental tour-de-force featuring acoustic and electric guitars, a traditional Senegalese fiddle, ngoni and hand drums.

“Le guide de le revolution” is one of the highlights of the disc, a combination of the drive of Congolese guitar, the rhythms of Wassoulou, the minor modality and acoustic guitars shared by North Africa and Andalusía. The song is harmonically quite simply, alternating between tonic and fifth, but the energy of the song builds as instruments come in one by one, until Dagnon’s shouting vocals erupt. Other songs, such as “M’Ba,” “Alpha Yaya” and “Fadeen tô” are much quieter, the closest Dagnon comes to a ballad, given the strength of her voice.

Sidiba is much more than a world music disc; it is a direct demonstration of the cross-Atlantic connections that have been vital to music in both the old and new worlds for centuries. What Bako Dagnon and her collaborators have achieved here is not flashy, but it is impressive and deeply satisfying.

By Richard Miller

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