Monday, February 8, 2010
In many of her songs, Mali’s great diva Oumou Sangare refers to herself as 'Sangare kono', meaning Sangare the songbird. To do so is a special priviledge of musicians from Wasulu in the south of Mali.
The wisdom in Oumou’s powerful lyrics springs from her experiences growing up in Mali’s capital, Bamako. Her difficult childhood was the result of her mother being abandoned by Oumou’s father when Oumou was just 2 years old, a very traumatic event. Oumou’s father abandoned the family and took a second wife and Oumou remembers her mother being extremely depressed, weeping a great deal. Oumou’s mother was a professional musician: as a sumu she would sing at weddings and baptism celebrations. After her husband left her Oumou’s mother was sometimes too downhearted and tired to participate. However when she did, Oumou accompanied her and from age 5 began to join in and was able to help her mother earn some money. Oumou enjoyed these occasions and was very passionate about Wassolou music. When her stunning voice was heard at a sumu when she was 16, Oumou was recruited to become a member of the group Djoliba Percussions and had the chance to tour Europe. She was their lead soloist and then went on to form her own band. A few years later aged 21 Oumou recorded her first album, Moussoulou (Women), released in 1990. It caused a great stir because of the subjects in the lyrics which were not usually publicly expressed, most notably her big hit 'Diaraby Nene (The Shivers of Passion)', and also her chosen rhythm. Oumou's songs use the resonating jittery sound of the kamalengoni - the youth version of the hunter's harp. The radical mission of her songs is to highlight the issues that women in Mali face, especially polygamy.
Further albums in the 1990s were Ko Sira and Worotan. A double CD simply entitled Oumou (2003) includes notes on the songs provided by Oumou herself. It is a 20-track compilation of 12 songs from her existing CDs plus 8 tracks not previously on CD. DJs promoted 'Yala' as one of the best dancetracks on the album. A few of the songs give advice to young people, such as 'Djorolen' and 'N'Guatu'. You don’t have to look very far to find one of Oumou’s songs on African music compilations – Empresses of Africa and Africanesque are just a couple. Several of Oumou’s songs feature on the soundtrack of the powerful movie Beloved (1998).
Since 2000 Oumou has concentrated on producing music for the Malian market and a few other projects, including the building of a hotel called Hotel Wasulu, supporting an orphanage in Bamako and touring countries in Africa. As the UN Ambassador for the F.A.O. she campaigns against world hunger.
In January 2003 Oumou participated in Festival in the Desert in the northern part of Mali, her presence was notable because of the recent civil war in the North. Her song 'Wayena' is on the festival CD. Later the same year Oumou was at international summer festivals including WOMAD festival in Reading UK. She was in London for the Jazz Festival in November 2003 as part of a major international tour.
Six years since her last CD, Oumou's new CD Seya (2009) has songs with messages and rhythms that appeal to her fans in Mali and worldwide. Well-known musicians who play on some tracks are Bassekou Kouyate and Benego Diakite.
Oumou’s performances on stage are truly spectacular as she and her dancers spin calabashes in the air.