The music of Grammy award-winning Oumou Sangaré always uplifts me, even from the most difficult of places. I was first introduced to her music by a friend whilst studying for my final exams, and it swept me away. I did not understand the lyrics on the track ‘Wassoulou’ but I immediately felt less anxious, having been able to focus on something other than my impending exams – it was magical. It was the start of an important journey for me as I became more familiar with Sangaré’s signature sound and began to listen to more African music.
Sangaré’s latest album, Mogoya (roughly translated as “people today”), is no different, and surely establishes the Malian artist as one of the greatest musicians of our time. Everything about this album is straight up fire. The latest in Sangaré’s discography introduces a more modern sound, blending the ubiquitous kamele n’goni strings of Mali’s Wassoulou region, calabash percussion and karignan with synth, keys, and even a feature from the legendary Tony Allen on drums.
For Sangaré, Mogoya was crafted to appeal to the “young people in Mali but being careful, all the while, to respect my culture and tradition”. It’s certainly for the people of Mali that Sangaré sings foremost, delivering her take on the complexities of personal relationships, issues important to Malian youth (‘Yere Faga’ speaks to the overlooked issue of suicide), and particularly the challenges faced by women in Malian society.
As a former goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, Sangaré also uses her music to highlight the struggles of the Malian people saying to gal-dem:
“Children in the north of Mali can’t go to school because of the situation with extremists. This problem in the desert is not a Malian problem, it’s much wider it’s international. Therefore, it has to be solved internationally.”
Acknowledging Sangaré’s tireless activism, and recognising the way she continues to speak out about these struggles through her music, lends an intensity to her melodic vocals. The album’s minimalist closing track is one of the finest examples of this, with Sangaré delivering the raw power she consistently emits through her voice.
Mogoya has been a long time coming, and there are certainly many of us who have been waiting for more of Sangaré’s signature sound. Even the album art, designed by Congolese artist J.P. Mika, is bold and beautiful, capturing the uniqueness of Sangaré’s style while illustrating her continued desire to collaborate with other exceptional artists from the continent. Sangaré’s talent extends well beyond her music as she continues to highlight African creativity and utilise her platform to uplift a generation of young women. The world is certainly brighter with Sangaré’s sound.
Oumou Sangaré will play at WOMAD Festival this summer.