Mali’s musical landscape is a fair bit dimmer with the death of Issa Bagayogo. The singer and musician passed away after a long illness on October 10, 2016. Mr. Bagayogo was 55.
Born in to a poor family in the small village of Korin in a section of the Bougouni Cercle, a part of the Sikasso region of Mali, Mr. Bagayogo found his way to music as a young boy by way of the daro, an iron bell struck to set the rhythm of field workers in Mali, before picking up and learning to play the kamele n’goni, a six-stringed instrument similar to an oud or guitar found in West Africa. He garnered local attention with his playing and singing local songs before heading off to Bamako in 1991 to record his first cassette that didn’t seem to catch on with music fans. Soon, another cassette followed in 1993, again without much success.
Dispirited and working as a bus driver, Mr. Bagayogo sunk into depression and addiction, losing his wife and the bus driving job as a result. This low point would take him back to his home village and essentially disappear from the music scene. By the late 1990s, Mr. Bagayogo would finally put his life back on track by quitting the drugs, travel back to Bamako and fashion his own sound out of the musical traditions of his home region with those of rock, funk, electronica and dub styles.
Earning the nickname “Techno Issa” by way of his mix of Mali’s musical roots and western dance, Mr. Bagayogo earned a name not only through his singing and playing, but also by way of his music that tacked such issues as cultural pride, drug use, AIDS and other social issues. Throughout his career, Mr. Bagayogo worked with keyboardist and producer Yves Wernert and bandmates and guitarists Karamoukou Diabate and Mama Sissoko. Mr. Bagayogo would go on to record Sya, Timbuktu, Tassoumakan and Mali Koura, all on the Six Degrees Records label.
In a statement, Six Degrees Records said, “All of us at Six Degrees Records are greatly saddened to learn that our friend and artist, Issa Bagayogo has passed away after a lengthy illness. He was a kind and gentle soul, whose music touched many people around the world & moved many a dance-floor.”
Mr. Bagayogo will be returned to his home village in Korin Bougouni for burial.