World music

An evening with the Malian diva Oumou Sangaré for the release of the new album "Timbuktu"

Oumou Sangare.

© Holly Whittaker

By: Laurence Aloir

11 mins

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On April 29, 2022,

Oumou Sangaré

will release her new album

Timbuktu

(Oumsang/World Circuit/BMG).

We met her at the beginning of February 2022 in Issy.

Upcoming concerts:

- May 15:

Cigale (Paris)

- June 6:

Sakifo Musik Festival / Reunion

- July 7:

Nights of the South / Vence

- July 15, 2022 

:

Les Suds / Arles

.

Oumou

,

her story by Francis Dordor.

Since 

Moussolou,

 her first album released in 1989, the life of Malian singer

Oumou Sangaré

has known no respite.

From this rich and hectic journey, we note in particular some of the most decisive recordings of contemporary African music, all produced by the World Circuit label: 

Ko Sira

 in 1993, 

Worotan

 in 1996 and 

Seya

 nominated in the Best World Music Album category of the Grammy Awards in 2009. Many international tours and the consecration obtained on prestigious stages such as the Sydney Opera House, the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London or the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, complete this honor roll. 

Timbuktu, 

the first production from his

Oumsang label,

is the new act of this unparalleled musical epic with which World Circuit is once again associated.

It consecrates this artist from the poor neighborhoods of Bamako who has become a world superstar, as well as a unanimously admired feminist icon.

With a powerful aura comparable to that of Grace Jones, a transgressive black icon par excellence, Oumou has long since crossed the barriers separating musical genres and continents.

Yesterday invited by

Alicia Keys

for a television duet, she is now cited as an example by artists as considerable as

Aya Nakamura

, who dedicated the song 

Oumou Sangaré

to her  in 2017,

or

Beyoncé

, who sampled one of her most famous creations, 

Diaraby Néné, 

for the track 

Mood 4 Eva

 from the soundtrack of the movie 

The Lion King: The Gift

 in 2019. 

His career led drumming without the slightest break, however, experienced an interruption with the health crisis in 2020.

Oumou Sangare at RFI.

© Pierre René-Worms/RFI

In March of that year (2020), following the FIWA (Festival International du Wassoulou), an event she created in 2016 to promote her region of origin in southern Mali, she traveled to the United States.

Initially scheduled to last two weeks, his stay is extended due to confinement.

First in New York, then in Baltimore where she quickly found her bearings.

"

Something immediately attracted me to this city. I felt so good there that I wanted to buy a house." 

 Once settled there, she spends her days composing with an old acquaintance, Mamadou Sidibé, who was the first player of kamele n'goni (the traditional lute) to accompany her in her debut.

Thanks to this forced confinement, ten of the eleven songs constituting 

Timbuktu will be born.

, a collection that forges intimate sound correspondences between traditional West African instruments and those linked to the history of the blues.

Especially between the kamele n'goni and those distant heirs that are the dobro guitar and the slide guitar, played here by

Pascal Danaë

, co-director of the album with

Nicolas Quéré

.

From this particular sequence of confinement, where time has so to speak stopped, where both the artist and the businesswoman found themselves in an unprecedented situation of isolation, far from the tumult and incessant solicitations, Oumou drew the best.

Since 1990, I had never had the opportunity to cut myself off from the world in this way to devote myself exclusively to music.

From this point of view, the confinement was a chance for me because it allowed me to stay focused on the work of composition.

I think the music is affected by this, but also the lyrics, which are the fruit of moments when I was able to withdraw into myself to meditate."

 His words have never in fact reached such a poetic quality, such a Never have we found her so inspired to deliver her reflections on the indecipherable mysteries of existence, the perilous situation that her country is going through or on the condition of African women, proof that even when she becomes powerful, she does not has denied nothing of his youthful commitments. Between the introspection of 

Degui N'Kelena

, the amorous languor expressed in 

Kanou

, the compassion in 

Demissimw, 

exasperation

in

 Kêlê Magni 

or

Pride in 

Wassulu Don,

 many moods nourish this record

Finding in the sound design produced by Danaë and Quéré, which to the dynamics of the traditional rhythms of Wassoulou adds that specific to contemporary musical language, a convincing enhancement, 

Timbuktu

 thus imposes itself as the most ambitious and successful of a discography already emeritus.

Oumou Sangare.

© Holly Whittaker

If the title 

Timbuktu

 refers to the political news of Mali, a country threatened with disintegration and seeking in its history, of which this city in the north-east the most powerful symbol, reasons for hope, many songs refer to the singular experience of the singer.

When in 

Sira

 (literally "the baobab" in Bambara), it evokes the offspring of erudite and well-to-do families who, despite this, laps into delinquency and spoil a promising future, it is almost unconsciously to underline by contrast the exemplary nature of its own trajectory … Born in Bamako on February 2, 1968, Oumou Sangaré is the youngest daughter of a family belonging to the Wassoulou Fulani ethnic group.

His mother, Aminata Diakité, is a singer as was her own mother Noumouténé.

Oumou knew very little about her father, Diari Sangaré, who left home when she was two years old.

Abandoned, Aminata then becomes a trader to support her four children.

Oumou comes to her aid by selling sachets of water in the street.

Having taken the habit of following his mother in the "soumous"

(nuptial or baptismal ceremonies) that she animates, she already grants herself a share of prestige by the clarity and power of a voice which, springing from a child's body, dazzles the audience.

It does not take long to monopolize all the glory on the occasion of an inter-school competition where she wins her school in the district of Douadabougou by singing in front of 3,000 people gathered in the Omnisports Stadium of Bamako.

Passed by the National Ensemble of Mali and the Djoliba group, Oumou already had a long professional career behind her when, at 18, she was about to record in Abidjan her first cassette produced by Abdoulaye Samassa (who had to offer her her own car to convince her to enter the studio).

Reissued on CD and vinyl by World Circuit in 2016, the cassette titled

she already grants herself a share of prestige by the clarity and power of a voice which, springing from a child's body, dazzles the audience.

It does not take long to monopolize all the glory on the occasion of an inter-school competition where she wins her school in the district of Douadabougou by singing in front of 3,000 people gathered in the Omnisports Stadium of Bamako.

Passed by the National Ensemble of Mali and the Djoliba group, Oumou already had a long professional career behind her when, at 18, she was about to record in Abidjan her first cassette produced by Abdoulaye Samassa (who had to offer her her own car to convince her to enter the studio).

Reissued on CD and vinyl by World Circuit in 2016, the cassette titled

she already grants herself a share of prestige by the clarity and power of a voice which, springing from a child's body, dazzles the audience.

It does not take long to monopolize all the glory on the occasion of an inter-school competition where she wins her school in the district of Douadabougou by singing in front of 3,000 people gathered in the Omnisports Stadium of Bamako.

Passed by the National Ensemble of Mali and the Djoliba group, Oumou already had a long professional career behind her when, at 18, she was about to record in Abidjan her first cassette produced by Abdoulaye Samassa (who had to offer her her own car to convince her to enter the studio).

Reissued on CD and vinyl by World Circuit in 2016, the cassette titled

dazzles the audience.

It does not take long to monopolize all the glory on the occasion of an inter-school competition where she wins her school in the district of Douadabougou by singing in front of 3,000 people gathered in the Omnisports Stadium of Bamako.

Passed by the National Ensemble of Mali and the Djoliba group, Oumou already had a long professional career behind her when, at 18, she was about to record in Abidjan her first cassette produced by Abdoulaye Samassa (who had to offer her her own car to convince her to enter the studio).

Reissued on CD and vinyl by World Circuit in 2016, the cassette titled

dazzles the audience.

It does not take long to monopolize all the glory on the occasion of an inter-school competition where she wins her school in the district of Douadabougou by singing in front of 3,000 people gathered in the Omnisports Stadium of Bamako.

Passed by the National Ensemble of Mali and the Djoliba group, Oumou already had a long professional career behind her when, at 18, she was about to record in Abidjan her first cassette produced by Abdoulaye Samassa (who had to offer her her own car to convince her to enter the studio).

Reissued on CD and vinyl by World Circuit in 2016, the cassette titled

It does not take long to monopolize all the glory on the occasion of an inter-school competition where she wins her school in the district of Douadabougou by singing in front of 3,000 people gathered in the Omnisports Stadium of Bamako.

Passed by the National Ensemble of Mali and the Djoliba group, Oumou already had a long professional career behind her when, at 18, she was about to record in Abidjan her first cassette produced by Abdoulaye Samassa (who had to offer her her own car to convince her to enter the studio).

Reissued on CD and vinyl by World Circuit in 2016, the cassette titled

It does not take long to monopolize all the glory on the occasion of an inter-school competition where she wins her school in the district of Douadabougou by singing in front of 3,000 people gathered in the Omnisports Stadium of Bamako.

Passed by the National Ensemble of Mali and the Djoliba group, Oumou already had a long professional career behind her when, at 18, she was about to record in Abidjan her first cassette produced by Abdoulaye Samassa (who had to offer her her own car to convince her to enter the studio).

Reissued on CD and vinyl by World Circuit in 2016, the cassette titled

she is about to record in Abidjan her first cassette produced by Abdoulaye Samassa (who had to offer her his own car to convince her to enter the studio).

Reissued on CD and vinyl by World Circuit in 2016, the cassette titled

she is about to record in Abidjan her first cassette produced by Abdoulaye Samassa (who had to offer her his own car to convince her to enter the studio).

Reissued on CD and vinyl by World Circuit in 2016, the cassette titled 

Moussolou 

(

"

les femmes" in Bambara) sold more than 250,000 copies at the time, a record that remained unequaled in West Africa. much to the texts sung, sometimes roared, by this young lioness who, from a very young age, had to fight to survive. Standing up with ardor against the abuses of the patriarchal tradition, which authorizes polygamy, forced marriage and circumcision, Oumou became overnight the muse of a feminist cause that has no real foundation in this part of the world. Her career and her recordings are thus branded like a red-hot iron by this double dimension: being a woman and have a social origin which has made it singularly sensitive to all forms of injustice. 

Timbuktu

 is no exception.

Thus 

Gniani Sara

 (literally "the reward of suffering") refers to his lifelong fight for the status of women.

"

I dared to address this subject before anyone else and even risked my life by doing 

so,  she said today. 

My reward is to have succeeded in raising awareness. Especially among the young generation. See Aya Nakamura or Beyoncé to take me as an example is worth all the prizes and all the distinctions in the world".

Yet, becoming the greatest and most influential African singer alive was not enough for her.

For thirty years, Oumou has also distinguished herself in the economic field and social action.

At the head of several companies related to the hotel industry, agriculture or automobile trade through its Oum Sang brand, it currently employs nearly 200 full-time people.

As for the Oumou Sangaré foundation, created ten years ago to help women and children in difficult situations, it completes, so to speak, an artistic work never far removed from humanist convictions.

Raised to the rank of Commander of the National Order of Mali, made Knight of Arts and Letters of the French Republic, Oumou became an FAO Goodwill

Ambassador

(Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) in 2003, having received the UNESCO prize two years earlier.

© World Circuit

But this success, Oumou must pay a high price.

After having suffered some of the most cruel childhood wounds - abandonment, extreme poverty - she must now protect herself from the evils that notoriety brings to her, jealousy, slander, betrayal.

So many attacks that she exposes in 

Sarama,

 and that she encourages herself to overcome in 

Dily Oumou

.

This leads to the loneliness evoked in 

Degui N'Kelena,

 around which crystallizes the theme of separation and loss that she intends to confront in a Stoic way, welcoming each event with active lucidity.

A force that she draws entirely from the music itself, whose power refers to that of the hunters of Wassoulou who are its inventors.

Indeed, the brotherhood of those called "Donsow" ("Donso" in the singular) is at the origin of the rhythms used by all modern singers, themselves baptized "kònò" (bird).

An emblematic instrument of this repertoire, the donso-ngoni, modernized into kamel n'goni (the harp of young people) in the 1950s, remains the basis of all of Oumou's compositions.

Like a singing guide, that of Mamadou Sidibé structures all the compositions of 

Timbuktu

, as it attracts with its pentatonic tone the superb guitar developments of

Pascal Danaë.

By using a Harmony Stratotone on 

Wassulu Don

 (literally "the culture of Wassoulou"), a dobro resonator on 

Degui N'Kelena 

and 

Sarama

, or the bottleneck technique on 

Sira

, the musician seems each time to refer to the characteristic metallic sound of the kamel n'gnoni, thus forging an intoxicating elective complicity between musical genres and continents. 

That overcoming suffering and facing all adversities runs through Oumou Sangaré's entire repertoire is no coincidence given her past.

This dominance is probably not unrelated either to the fact that during ceremonies specific to them, some hunters inflict abuse on themselves to better overcome them, go so far as to swallow burning embers or stab themselves with daggers while dancing, while the singers invoke supernatural forces.

It is to this uncompromising trust that Wassulu Don

refers 

.

It is this culture with telluric foundations, with universal scope, that its most famous representative celebrates here, a singer who, like the greatest, Aretha Franklin or Nina Simone, sublimates pain and, more than ever, illuminates with her genius. own music, all music, and not just African.

Music is in me!” 

proclaims Oumou.

"

Without it I am nothing, and nothing can take it away from me! In this disc I put my life, all my life, this life where I knew hunger, the humiliation of poverty, the fear and from which I derive the glory today."

Oumou Sangaré and Laurence Aloir after the interview at RFI.

© Pierre René-Worms/RFI

Titles broadcast from the album

Timbuktu

- Wassulu Don

watch the clip

-Sira

- Degui N'Kelena

- Timbuktu

See the Sarama clip

.

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