At first glance, Issa Bagayogo has the typical rags-to-riches story: young son of a farming family in Mali begins to play music, moves to the city, and hits the big time. The reality is somewhat messier than that. It took Bagayogo several cassettes and a change in producers before his sound took off, and in the meantime he moved back home once or twice, watched his marriage fall apart, and suffered bouts of depression and addiction. A mix of luck and perseverance led to a third opportunity to record, however -- this time with French producer Yves Wernert. Wernert encouraged a reluctant Bagayogo to mix his traditional ngoni (six-stringed lute) playing with modern electronics. Bagayogo's reluctance must have evaporated when 1998's Sya became a national best seller and earned him the award of Mali's "Brightest New Hope" a year later. 2002's Timbuktu fared even better, gaining a world audience captivated by Bagayogo's spare, bluesy ngoni playing, velvety voice, and hybrid instrumentation.