Oumou Sangare: Sukunyali




Oumou Sangare (vocals, percussion)



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Oumou Sangare (vocals, percussion),

‘Bastos’ Mahamane Touré (guitar), Cheick Tidiane Seck (guitar, calabash), Habib Sangare (bolon), Bassekou Kouyaté (n’goni), Andara Koyaté (n’goni) Binefou Keita (n’goni ba, talking drum, backing vocals), Will Calhoun (oudu drum), Adama Diarra (djembe), Prince (talking drum), Dandio Sidibé (backing vocals), Paye Camara (backing vocals)


Composed by Oumou Sangare


Recorded: Bamako, Mali and London, no dates given (CD released in 2009)


Rating: 92/100 (learn more)

Mali, a landlocked West African nation of roughly twelve million inhabitants, stands out as one of the most vibrant centers of contemporary music. Toumani Diabaté and the late Ali Farka Touré are among the best known "world music" performers of recent times, and the band Tinariwen is one of my favorite currently active groups in any style, while I also give high marks to Rokia Traoré and Habib Koité. Now the Nonesuch label—which has brought us so much of this music—releases a dramatic CD of singer Oumou Sangare, the "Songbird of Wassoulou" (Wassoulou is a region south of the Niger river), which is an exemplary mixture of traditional and forward-looking sounds. This song, in the Soninke national language, is ostensibly about grazing goats but is a parable about African emigrants working abroad for the betterment of their native land. But you don't need to follow the symbolism to enjoy the infectious pulse, and the richly textured layers of sound and rhythm.

I am usually wary of large rhythm sections—two drummers are not twice as good as a single first-rate percussionist, and as the size of the poundin'-and-scrapin' contingent increases the beat often becomes oppressive rather than propulsive. But Sangare's work here proves that, after all, there is strength in numbers. The ensemble projects a impressive collective energy, and Sangare soars over the cauldron of aural energy with confidence and power, more an eagle than a songbird in this instance. This artist is no recent arrival on the scene, but a career of two decades has produced only five releases, and even these are hard to find (for example, the CD of her influential debut Moussolou, a bestseller at the time of its release, is not currently available in the US). I hope this new disk serves to boost her audience and signals more frequent visits to the recording studio in her future.

Reviewer: Ted Gioia

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