Oumou Sangare: Songbird of Wassalou

oumou_-c-benoit_peverelli_5_small_wide-3040a84a75ececbc4475a6f5fda7ef9859cb5083-s800-c85Happy New Year! We hope this is the best year ever for you and  your loved ones. We are so happy to continue to connect you with the top contemporary African songs and artists. We are often asked where do we find these artists? Well, we search the globe, we listen to African Radio, we regularly talk to radio personalities, radio programmers, influencers, music journalists and more to take the pulse of what is hot, classic and awesome on the continent of Africa.

One artist we have learned about and come to adore is the Grammy Award winning Oumou Sangare’. She’s from Mali and sings in the Wassalou language – the predominant indigenous language of the region. Yes, they speak French as Mali is one of the 24 Francophone nations, but the original language of this region is Wassalou. and is also the tradition that her music is founded upon.

In 2011 she was one of the recipients of the Grammy Award for Best Pop Collaboration for her part in the classic Herbie Hancock rendition of Imagine. Her co-awardees included Hancock, India.Arie, Pink, Konono No.1, and Fatoumata Diawara. Curious that Fatoumata is on the track but is not listed as one of the winners…. hmmmm…..

At any cause, she is welcome here at AfroPop Radio. According to Britannica Encyclopedia, the earliest influence on Sangaré’s musical development was her mother, a migrant to Bamako from Mali’s Wassoulou region, where women had long figured prominently in traditional-music performance. As a skilled singer, Sangaré’s mother was often hired to perform at wedding and baptism celebrations in the city. Sangaré frequently accompanied her mother to these events, and it was not long before she began to sing at them herself. By the time she was in her early teens, Sangaré was already a locally recognized artist.

At age 16 Sangaré joined the band Djoliba Percussions and briefly toured Europe with the group as its lead vocalist. Following the tour she set about writing music for her first album. She worked within the framework of wassoulou music, the popular style that had been created and cultivated by the Wassoulou migrant community in Bamako. Central to the wassoulou sound were the strains of the kamele ngoni, a six-string harp ultimately associated with rural Wassoulou tradition. Aside from the harp, Sangaré used a violin to replace—or suggest—the traditional Wassoulou bowed lute, a scraper to add rhythmic drive, and the electric guitar and bass to provide melodic and harmonic support. Sangaré also recruited a chorus of female singers to articulate her powerful solo singing in a call-and-response fashion typical of many music traditions of western Africa.

In 1990 Sangaré finally released her debut recording, Moussoulou (“Women”), and it received an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response. Audiences were enchanted not only with her agile vocals but also with her lyrics, which critically addressed taboo topics such as polygamy, arranged marriage, and the hardship of women in western African society. When the album sold more than 250,000 copies locally, it was quickly picked up for international distribution.

Oomou Sangare’. the Songbird of Wassalou. Right here on AfroPop Radio.