Like Sean Lennon and Rufus Wainwright, this African rap trio owe much to ma and pa — singer-guitarist Sam Bagayoko's parents are Malian pop stars Amadou & Mariam. Through them, the group met polyglot pop scientist Manu Chao, who produced SMOD's third record. SMOD carries Chao's signature psychedelic bounce: bulbous reggae bass lines, one-note melodies, dubby chants, video-game sound effects.
Five years ago, when I visited Amadou and Mariam at their home in Bamako, I was approached by their son Sam, who asked me onto the roof to listen to some songs he had been working on with his friends. Now they have recorded them, and SMOD (which stands for Sam and his friends Mouzy, Ousco and Dronsky, but is now a trio following Mouzy's departure) have their first international release. It's an intriguing, varied and highly original fusion set, matching Sam's confident acoustic guitar work against slinky harmony vocals and bursts of rap.
Is Manu Chao really such a great producer? The Paris-born guitarist made a splash in 2004 by collaborating with Amadou & Mariam, producing Dimanche a Bamako. The huge success of that record suggests that Chao’s touch can bring some artists to a wider audience. But I find Dimanche a Bamako disappointingly smooth in its sound—not exactly glossy, but monotonously paced and somewhat rhythmically repetitive, especially compared to the duo’s earlier records.