Printer Friendly

Mali's songbird: modernising tradition.



World Circuit


Oumou Sangare is one of Mali's greatest female singers, and a champion of women's rights. 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 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 Ba Guindo. She replaced the traditional horse-hair fiddle or soku with a modern violin and brought in the calabash or fle as a percussion instrument. 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 drum and karyaing (scraper), 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 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. 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, 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 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".
COPYRIGHT 2004 IC Publications Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Reviews; Oumou
Publication:African Business
Article Type:Sound Recording Review
Date:Apr 1, 2004
Previous Article:In Defense of Globalization.
Next Article:African leadership: be accountable to people.

Related Articles
Joi Cardwell.
Diamond, David: Symphony Number 1; Violin Concerto Number 2; The Enormous Room.
The Bamako locomotive: from savannah Blues to Manding rock.
The big mix: Tunisian star's global stance.
Red and Green: Ali Farka Toure.
A deeper shade of blues: Ali Farka Toure's farewell album.
Aglukark touches emotions with new CD.
Africa to Appalachia.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters