Oumou Sangaré: one of the most vital and powerful singers in Africa right now, live at Le Guess Who? 2017
Armed with her powerful and piercing voice, the Grammy Award-winning Oumou Sangaré from Mali is often referred to as 'The Songbird of Wassoulou'. Wassoulou is a historical region south of the Niger River, where the music descends from age-old traditional song, often with the accompaniment by the calabash percussion instrument. Oumou Sangaré started singing from an early age on. It was a way to help her mother, the singer Aminata Diakité, feed their family, as their father left his pregnant wife for another woman when Oumou was just two years old. It is this moment which she defines as shaping her career.
The struggle to keep the family afloat was the backdrop to Oumou's childhood. Because of her vocal talents, she already became the family breadwinner by the age of thirteen, and kept singing on the streets until she was eighteen. In her own words: “It was a very hard childhood and it gave me an incredible character. I can face up to any obstacle now.” Just three years later she saw herself rising as an internationally renowned Malinese star.
Sangaré’s dynamic songs are full of energy and her lyrics cover controversial topics, including civil rights, polygamy and childbirth, while at the same time giving a fresh spin on traditional Malian folk. She has become a role model for West-African woman, and was one of the founders of Les Amazones d’Afrique (also performing at Le Guess Who? 2017): a collective of west African musicians campaigning for gender equality. Oumou Sangaré breaks through taboos and crosses musical as well as cultural boundaries. She isn’t just embraced in her own country, but has now created a fan base all over the world.
On her long awaited new album ‘Mogoya’ – her first in eight years, the title roughly translates as “people today” – she makes another leap forward. Recorded in Stockholm as well as in Paris with French production team A.L.B.E.R.T, Mogoya is a record that both draws upon a rich musical heritage and looks to the future. Traditional African instruments such as the kamele n’goni (harp), karignan (metal scraper) and calabash percussion are augmented by electric guitar, bass, keyboards and even synths while Tony Allen, once Fela Kuti’s band leader, guests on drums.
“We wanted to emphasise the raw power of Oumou’s voice and songs and to avoid the glossy smoothness of so many current African productions,” says Ludovic Bruni, who with his co-producers Taurelle and Taeger has worked with the likes of Air, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Beck. “We wanted to find a new modernity”.
Her mother’s spirit continues to inspire her music and one of Mogoya’s key songs is ‘Minata Waraba’ (‘Aminata the Lioness’), a tribute to her maternal courage and resilience. “Women have a hard time in Africa. We have no voice; our men do all our talking for us,” Oumou says. “My role is to speak directly to women both through my songs and setting an example and showing them that they can make their own decisions. I was the first one who started to speak out about correcting the inequalities and injustice that women still endure in Mali.”
Listen to Oumou Sangaré's latest album in full: