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Oumou Sangaré

  • Moussolou [World Circuit, 1991] A-
  • Ko Sira [World Circuit, 1994] B+
  • Worotan [World Circuit, 1997] A-
  • Oumou [World Circuit/Nonesuch, 2004] A
  • Seya [Nonesuch, 2009] A-
  • Mogoya [No Format, 2017] B+
  • Timbuktu [World Circuit, 2022] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Moussolou [World Circuit, 1991]
Cut in Côte d'Ivoire the week of this Wassoulou woman's 21st birthday, it'a a crucial quantum more pop than Stern's's far-from-folkloric Women of Mali collection, where Sangare's "Diaraby Nene" stands out even more proudly than it does here. But it's also a crucial quantum less pop than copyright holder Ibrahim Sylla's usual Gallic West Africanisms, not to mention those of such world travelers as Salif Keita or Youssou N'Dour. No archivist, Sangare nevertheless avoids horn charts, synthesizers, and Afrodisco overdrive for the deliberate rhythms and acoustic hooks of her own tradition. Call it a Sahel version of early Dolly Parton--with a deeper groove. A-

Ko Sira [World Circuit, 1994]
Established now, she stretches out, which in general is more fun for her than it is for us. Note, however, the almost giddy response her plummy, plangent call gets from her delightedly girlish backup followers by the end of the seven-minute title workout. Regal yet outgoing, this is the model of a woman who could lead a movement. B+

Worotan [World Circuit, 1997]
Traditional? Folkloric? Malian? "World"? Fusion? Pop? Ignoring such petty distinctions, this sexy sister and radical queen is all these things and none. Its interlock Malian, its forward motion as imbued with possibility as the message it carries, her music has never been more confident or distinct. She's proud to be a griot, an earth mother, a modern woman, a star--an effective progressive in music as well as politics, up to and including some Pee Wee Ellis horn charts to freshen her funk. She exploits possibilities she finds in Europe and America, and she gives new possibilities back. A-

Oumou [World Circuit/Nonesuch, 2004]
A bit of a cheat, interspersing six songs from a Mali-only cassette deemed internationally unviable in 2001 with a dozen from the '90s albums that made her a legend if not a superstar. Nor are the newcomers quite up to quality--the best is a trip-hop remix. But whether colored by full orchestra or sour old indigenous violin, each one fits right in, and the sequencing is so deft that this two-CD set is the Oumou album to define what organic feminism sounds like. A

Seya [Nonesuch, 2009]
In the '90s she was a self-made African queen on an unprecedented feminist mission--the titles of her albums from that decade translate to "women," "marriage today" and "10 kola nuts," which lest you wonder is or was the standard bride price in Mali's Wassoulou. Then she spent a dozen years raising a son and running multiple businesses, among them selling a Chinese car dubbed the Oum Sang for Malian consumption, such as it is. Her musical return to the world market translates simply "joy," and though it's unimpeachably pro-woman, it's also as expansive in mood as a Youssou N'Dour crossover. For all its 50-plus musicians, it's less varied than Youssou, though, and that's good. Sangare drew her musical authority from the cycling rhythms of Wassoulou hunting and harvesting songs, and she remains a homegirl. Nowhere is she more rousing then revving up old-time beats on two tributes to her musical forebears: the restrained "Djigui" and the unrestrained "Koroko." A-

Mogoya [No Format, 2017]
Backed by an electro-friendly French boutique label with a specialty in Afro-Euro interaction and two welcome Mamani Keita CDs in its kit, the first album in eight years from Africa's premier female singer targets a boutique audience: non-Malians who've admired the music of this humane, well-off feminist for decades, among them my wife, who long ago wrote that "even when the liner notes tell me that Sangaré is being ironic, I just hear compassion." But admiration doesn't generate the engagement I might be freed up for if just one of the Bambara lyrics indicated how hellish a Mali wrecked by Islamist inhumanity and French passivity has become since Sangaré last recorded. Instead I'll have to settle for Guimba Kouyate's excoriating guitar on "Djoukourou," Ludovic Bruni's disruptive guitar on "Yere Faga," and synthscaper Clément Petit's spooky atmospherics on "Mogoya" itself. B+

Timbuktu [World Circuit, 2022]
The title honors the medieval West Saharan trading hub north of Malian capital Bamako and well north of the forested Wassoulou whence emerged the music of this African queen. But the most salient reason Oumou's latest continues a phenomenal run of superb albums that goes all the way back to 1991's Moussoulou is Parisian-Guadaloupean guitarist and dobro master Pascal Danaë, who adds fresh color, sharp commentary, and outspoken propulsion to the reliable ngoni of her immemorial helpmate Mamadou Sidibé. As one of Africa's longest-running feminists, she has the guts to address the social isolation of the pandemic period. Translated, "Degui N'Kelena" advises her sisters: "Learn to rely on yourself/Learn to live alone, because no one can tell you what tomorrow will bring." A-

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