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Mali's songbird: modernising tradition.



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Oumou Sangare is one of Mali's greatest female singers, and a champion of women's rights The effort to secure equal rights for women and to remove gender discrimination from laws, institutions, and behavioral patterns.

The women's rights movement began in the nineteenth century with the demand by some women reformers for the right to vote, known as suffrage, and
. With this album, her first in seven years, she provides a dozen of the best tracks from her three previous albums. In addition, there are eight new songs.

Drawing deep from the wealth of the musical traditions of Wassoulou, her home region of southern Mali, Sangare creates a powerful and hypnotically rhythmic music that has won her international fame. It's not just her exquisite voice that draws people to her work--it is also her ability to write songs that speak up for her generation and her gender.

She was born in Bamako to parents who had moved to Mali's burgeoning capital city from the Wassoulou region south of the River Niger. Her mother, Aminata Diakhite, was also a renowned singer who, like most women of her generation, shared her husband with two other wives.

This was a formative experience. For Sangare, polygamy polygamy: see marriage.

Marriage to more than one spouse at a time. Although the term may also refer to polyandry (marriage to more than one man), it is often used as a synonym for polygyny (marriage to more than one woman), which appears
 and its potential for causing pain and suffering, are frequent themes of her songs.

Her mother taught her to sing and encouraged her to develop her precocious talent. At the tender age of six years Sangare took the stage at Bamako's Stade des Omnisports for her first public performance. "Sing like you're at home in the kitchen" was her mother's only advice.


Wassoulou, has produced many great women singers such as Coumba Sidibe, Sali Sidibe and Flan Saran. These were important influences when Sangare began to forge her own distinct style.


In the late 1980s, Sangare started working with the hugely influential arranger Amadou Am´a`dou

n. 1. A spongy, combustible substance, prepared from fungus (Boletus and Polyporus) which grows on old trees; German tinder; punk.
 Ba Guindo. She replaced the traditional horse-hair fiddle or soku with a modern violin and brought in the calabash calabash

Tree (Crescentia cujete) of the trumpet-creeper family (Bignoniaceae) that grows in Central and South America, the West Indies, and extreme southern Florida. It is often grown as an ornamental.
 or fle as a percussion instrument percussion instrument, any instrument that produces musical sound when its surface is struck with an implement (such as a mallet, stick, or disk) or with the hand. . Together with Boubacar Diallo on guitar and Aliou Traore on violin, Sangare and Amadou Ba created a sound rooted in tradition--yet a sound as fresh and contemporary as any heard in Mali for many years.

Her sound combines the djembe A djembe (pronounced jem bay) also known as djimbe, jenbe, jembe, yembe or sanbanyi in Susu; is a skin covered hand drum, shaped like a large goblet, and meant to be played with bare hands.  drum and karyaing (scraper See scraping. ), which provide the complex rhythms of the Wassoulou region's traditional dances. Another important component is the sound of the kamalengoni--literally a 'young man's harp'. The kamalengoni, in many ways, symbolises youthful exuberance and independence.

After two years work, Sangare and her band travelled to Cote d'Ivoire, and in just a week recorded Moussolou, a collection of six original compositions. The recording proved a revelation.

Amidst all the pop music releases of the day, invariably in·var·i·a·ble  
Not changing or subject to change; constant.

 created using modern Western electronic instruments such as synthesisers and drum machines, Sangare's recording featured traditional and mainly acoustic instruments. On its release the record sold over 200,000 copies on cassette tape throughout West Africa West Africa

A region of western Africa between the Sahara Desert and the Gulf of Guinea. It was largely controlled by colonial powers until the 20th century.

West African adj. & n.
. At 21, she was a star and Moussolou became a classic of modern African pop.

The irony was that she had created a modern sound by traditional means--and defined an identity that while it might have questioned social customs such as polygamy and bride price bride price: see marriage. , kept her own culture alive.


Sangare herself often stresses the fact that although she speaks out against the abuses of traditional social customs, she herself is not anti-tradition. "Just look at the clothes I wear," she says "aren't they traditional?"

On its international release, Moussolou garnered as much praise around the world as it had done in West Africa. Sangare then began to work on her second album Ko Sira (Marriage Today), which she recorded in Berlin and released in 1993. With Ko Sira, she notched up her second best-selling album and consolidated her fame. Ko Sira was voted Europe's World Europe's World is an innovative and new European Publication within The European Capital in Brussels  Music Album of the Year in 1993.

For her third album Worotan which means 10 Kola Nuts, the traditional bride-price in Mali, she broadened her scope. For this album, released in 1996, she called in a number of international artists to contribute to the recording--such as Pee Wee Ellis, James Brown's erstwhile hornman, and Nitin Sawhney, the British-Asian guitar maestro.

Some critics have said that the core reason for Sangare's national and later international popularity is that she offers an alternative to the Malian tradition of jalis, or praise singers. Whereas jalis sing the praises of important men and the glory of their ancestors, Oumou Sangare concentrates on everyday matters with no particular thought of financial reward.

She simply sings the truth about the struggles of women in a male-dominated society. "I will fight until my dying day" she has promised "for the rights of African women and of women throughout the world".
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Title Annotation:Reviews; Oumou
Publication:African Business
Article Type:Sound Recording Review
Date:Apr 1, 2004
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