Here is one of the finest new offerings of the summer to date and an album that in some ways is an updated version of Salif Keita’ landmark, ‘Soro’, for the twenty-first century. First, take an experienced Malian singer in Oumou Sangaré and pair her with a younger generation of producers from France and Sweden. Second, retain some of the rootsier elements to her sound, but embellish them with influences outside her native land and give them a subtle modern touch. This is precisely what has happened on this new recording, the first album that Sangaré has recorded in fact for some eight years and it proves to be a revelatory listening experience.
This all original set of compositions is relatively short, weighing in at just over forty minutes, but there is absolutely no filler whatsoever and this writer immediately appreciated the subtle blend of traditional instrumentation (ngoni, marimba) with funk-tinged bass lines and dance floor rhythm guitar. Nigerian Afro-Beat drum patterns are a key feature on ‘Yere faga’ (‘Suicide’), where Tony Allen guests and the shuffling drum pattern allied to Sangaré’s distinctive vocals are a winning combination. Another dance floor oriented groove, and arguably the strongest song of all, is the infectious, ‘Kamelemba’ (‘Womaniser’), and this listener warmed to the use of layered percussion that enters gradually into the overall sound. This could be a potential crossover hit if released as a 12″. Competing with song is another gorgeous groove in, ‘Kounkoun’ (‘Bad millet grains’), and the interweaving of bass line and rhythm guitar, alongside collective overdubbed vocals and handclaps make this a stunning number where tradition and modernity meet in perfect harmony.
Oumou Sangaré first came to prominence internationally (in her native Mali she scored a hit with her cassette only debut in 1990) via the World Circuit label and the title, ‘Moussolou’ or ‘women’ set the tone for much of her work, exploring social issues from the perspective of an African woman and one who felt sufficiently liberated to criticise where she felt it necessary to do so. Her deeply her views have been expressed across a whole range of issues and she has never been one to sit on the fence and see which way the wind blows.
This is both an extremely well thought and supremely well executed album. It pulls no punches lyrically and yet it is immediately accessible. Expect this to be on all the right playlists over the summer months and beyond. Already a strong contender for new African album of the year and a triumphant return for Oumou Sangaré.