Oumou Sangaré was long ago crowned musical royalty in Mali. Known for her formidable vocals and fearless messages, she is celebrated for both her feminine sovereignty and her integral depth of traditional style. In the late 1980s she garnered popularity with her rendition of Wassoulou music, a regional style based on long-established hunters’ songs which have a strong link to African blues, soul and funk. Holding a Grammy to her name, she is not only an African star but an international figure.
Her newest release, the latest in nine years, is called Mogoya meaning ‘People Today’, the album talks about the day-to-day struggles faced by those living in Mali, particularly addressing the struggles faced by women. The songs lay bare a lion-hearted soul devotedly delivering tales of emotional conflict.
The second track ‘Yere Faga’ featuring Tony Allen (former drummer for Fela Kuti) is a groove-infested piece. This beat crawls straight under your skin. Starting with a gust of beautiful immediate layered vocals, the ghosting back-beats start forming the march to her protest. Sangaré is a diva with rich vocals but unfortunately, the full force of her raw sensationally charged lyrics is stifled by reverb. However, there is a great strength in the minimalism of this track, where no instrument talks over the lead voice and lets her take full focus. Quick showers of electric guitar and the whirling keys blow seasonally around her vocal strides.
Sangaré has made an active decision to push her ancestral-driven style towards a more modern influence in an attempt to connect to younger audiences. To help achieve this, she has worked with Swedish and French producers Andreas Unge and production collective A.l.b.e.r.t. Moving into new territory can be a dangerous change, but this album proves that those who dare can succeed. Despite the modern production, the band still use traditional African instruments, the kamele n’goni (harp), karignan (metal scraper) and calabash (fruit shell) percussion and Sanagaré’s potent voice continues to carry lineage, never losing her traditional core.
The agility of Sangaré’s vocals throughout the songs reflects why she is revered for her singing, and why her regal status is so well earned. This album is intensely intriguing and I wish the lyrics were universally available to all languages, despite her ability to quickly invade all listeners with emotion. This is an offering that shows you don’t need to throw traditions aside to bring a contemporary edge to your music. Breaking the rules and representing contemporary life is what art should be about and Sangaré does this with extreme intensity and virtue.