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Listening To The Messages: Oumou Sangaré's Favourite Albums
David McKenna , July 10th, 2019 08:36

Malian musician Oumou Sangaré speaks to David McKenna about her favourite music, being discovered by Ali Farka Touré, and collaborating with Alicia Keys and Tony Allen

"The thing to know about me first of all is that I come from a family of artists, my grandmother was a great singer, she sang with Neba Solo, so I have that in my blood, a love of singing came naturally to me. My mother also has a lovely voice and sang at weddings and baptisms but never did it as a profession, and every time she was invited, I would go with her and she would sing traditional Wassoulou songs. So I got a taste for it, accompanying my mother to ceremonies."

Mali's Oumou Sangaré wasn't quite an overnight success, having performed and toured extensively as a teenager with the group Djoliba before breaking out on her own. Her debut album Moussoulou, however, was a sensation. As well as unleashing her powerful but controlled and delightfully supple voice on the world (Moussoulou was released internationally in 1991) it also established major themes she has returned to throughout her career, and which recur in her choice of albums for this feature. 

The title of her debut means "women", and the focus on the woman's voice in Malian society, while deriving from her Wassoulou heritage, extends to her frank depictions of female desire, the stands she has taken against child marriage and polygamy – her mother was a second wife who was abandoned her father – and her business ventures; Sangaré has provided high-level jobs for women in her own hotel outside Bamako.

Moussoulou also helped to spearhead the Wassoulou sound, originating in the southern Wasulu region, which emerged in the late 80s and early 90s as a rival to the music of the jelis or griots. It was new but felt traditional with its combination of guitar, violin, percussion and lilting backing vocals. Roots clearly matters greatly to Sangaré – two of her selections here are very literal returns to the source for a pair of Malian masters – but it would be reductive to see her as a straightforward musical traditionalist. Having been 'discovered' by World Circuit thanks to Ali Farka Touré's proselytising, her most recent album Mogoya, on French label No Format, saw her inject Afrobeat, funk, and a dubby, heat-warped spaciousness into her sound. This was taken to its logical conclusion with the subsequent album of remixes from the likes of Sampha, Auntie Flow, Malik Djoudi and St Germain.

Sangaré talks to me over the phone from the Paris offices on No Format, who are celebrating their 15th anniversary. Oumou's releases are jewels in a catalogue of highly distinctive, even idiosyncratic (and always beautifully packaged) releases that includes albums from Gonzales – the original Solo Piano - Blick Bassy and Mélissa Laveaux, as well as Mali box set featuring albums from Kassé Mady Diabaté, Ballaké Sissoko, and two collaborations between Sissoko and French cellist Vincent Ségal that include the majestic Musique de Nuit.

Before kicking off with her favourite LPs, we chat a little about her formative musical experiences. "My mother did listen to a lot of music, she put on old CDs by Coumba Sidibé, although we didn't always have the means to listen to music at home. But when I was out with my girlfriends we'd get together and put on music from all over the world – Bob Marley, Michael Jackson – we'd dance like crazy and jump around. It was the rhythm above all, before we understood what the songs meant."

Click the image below to begin reading Oumou Sangaré's selections