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Oumou Sangaré

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Review by Bruce Miller

27 years after her debut, Moussolou, an album straddling tradition and modernity that featured, for the time, daring lyrics denouncing polygamy and instead calling for female empowerment, made her an instant star in Mali and elsewhere, Oumou Sangaré's sixth LP, Mogoya, continues that conversation. In some ways she hasn't changed at all. With grooves infectious enough to rattle a pop music skeptic, she sails over rhythms and melodies that, no matter how dressed up in European production sheen, never truly betray her Wassoulou-region roots. In the eight years since her last release, she's continued touring, running a hotel in Bamako, branding her name on rice as well as automobiles, and all the while demonstrating the power women have in place where female circumcision is still performed and education isn't necessarily a priority.

Here, she's working with a new label, and that label's owner, Laurent Bizot, produced her in way that certainly felt new to her. And sure, there are synths, distorted electric piano lines, and electric guitars that often snake in and out of the mix. There's also Tony Allen, whose unmistakable drums provide a foundation no sample could every equal. But she still hangs tightly to the kamele n'goni, the karignan, and the calabash, and it's these instruments that typically drive the tunes, no matter what Bizot decides to add. And as ever, her words deal directly with situations affecting people in her home region. “Yere Faga,” which features Allen, is likely the most danceable track dealing with suicide anyone's ever heard.

“Mali Niale” applies the kamele n'goni to a song telling folks to ignore gossip and rumors while suggesting that Malians living abroad come home to work. Elsewhere, she wraps her voice around tracks celebrating those who help us, and honoring her mother, who also a musician. The record reveals itself as Malian immediately, with harp and guitar triplets that fall right into single-chord, driving melodic husks over which Sangaré and a host of harmony vocalists weave complex, interlocked patterns.

One listen to “Kamelemba,” which marries the kamele n'gnoni to hand percussion, a dance floor kick drum, and the most minimal of synth lines, underpins Sangaré's warning to women of womanizers. Ultimately, Sangaré still clearly keeps in touch Wassoulou's more rooted sounds, as heard by the likes Sali Sidibe and kamele n'goni master Alou Fane. As a result, Mogoya is as fine a record as she's made and shows the possibilities inherent in intertwining the traditional with the personal. - Bruce Miller


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