tue 19/09/2017

CD: Oumou Sangaré - Mogoya | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Oumou Sangaré - Mogoya

CD: Oumou Sangaré - Mogoya

Mali's songbird flirts with a contemporary sound

The 'Malian songbird' - ready for a new sound

Contemporary music from Mali hovers delicately (and creatively) between purist tradition and more or less successful attempts at making things more attractive to a younger and worldwide audience. Oumou Sangaré’s first five albums for the British World Circuit label stuck mostly to the raunchy Wassoulou style, characterized by pentatonic style and irresistible loping polyrhythms; but her first with No Format, who have, paradoxically, distinguished themselves with very fine acoustic albums for Ballaké Sissoko, Vincent Ségal and Kasse Mady Diabaté, launches into new territory, the great singer’s usual traditional backing augmented with drums, electric guitar, organ and synths.

This is a marriage which goes way back to Salif Keita’s Soro (1987), when Paris-based producer Ibrahim Sylla modernized the great singer’s sound with punchy brass, electrically amplified instruments, reverb and other drama-enhancing tools of the post-Phil Spector studio. In Oumou Sangaré’s case the "modern" interventions, under the production of a team of European producers who have worked in the rock field, are mostly subtle and appropriate: there is atmospheric echo distancing the women’s backing vocals on “Yere Faya”, along with deft detailing reminiscent of Tricky’s self-taught sequencer experiments on début album Maxinquaye (1995). And even wider sonic horizons  for “Kamelemba”, evoking the vastness of the savanna. Yet, here the production stumbles a little, as synth interventions feel a little contrived, and not as subtly achieved as on the rest of the album.

Oumou, with her deep and sensual voice, overflowing with the seductiveness of note-bending melisma, packs as strong a punch as ever. There are plenty of contagiously danceable tracks here, and this material will explode on stage, for sure. Although the passion with which she delivers her songs comes through, it’s a pity  (though not a fault) that her texts are in a language most of us don’t understand. Heaven forbid that she should resort to bad English or French – as other African singers do – but it's worth keeping in mind that this is not just music for entertainment: as with so much African song, these are exhortations to ethical behavior, rich in metaphor and poetry. The emotion that accompanies her moral conviction is totally authentic, and at the very heart of this music which, in spite of cultural distance, manages still to beguile us.

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