Oumou Sangare, Seya (Nonesuch, 2009)

Oumou Sangare is a singer from Bamako in Mali. She built up a considerable following in Africa in the early nineties both for her voice and for her songs about female empowerment. While she has performed sparingly over the past decade, tending to many different business ventures in the meantime, her esteem in the African musical community has not diminished. This past year she released her sixth album, called Seya.

Sangare differs from her male compatriots like Habib Koité, Vieux Farka Touré, and Amadou Bagayoko (of Amadou and Mariam) in that she doesn't place such a heavy emphasis on the guitar. Instead, she prefers to build her songs around the lyrics and some subtle, graceful rhythms. Her style is also a bit more eclectic, incorporating some jazzy touches and some extended jams with a bit of an Afrobeat influence. But while the meaning in her songs will probably require translations to understand, it is her outspokenness that commands the attention of music listeners on her home continent. The primary lyrical themes on Seya are the right of women to marry or not marry as they see fit, and support and sympathy for Africans who emigrate abroad in the hope of bettering their lives.

She may not be as prolific now as she was in the past, but when Oumou Sangare talks (or sings), people listen. I would definitely recommend listening to Seya with the translated lyrics in front of you (they're in the CD booklet); it will make it a lot easier to appreciate what she's about. Musically, the song that worked the best for me were a couple of the longer, groove-oriented songs, "Wele Wele Winto" and "Iyo Djeli." But anybody with an interest in African music will find something to like here.

Ovverall grade: B

reviewed by Scott

The title song of Seya

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