Oumou Sangare
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Oumou Sangare
World Circuit (www.worldcircuit.co.uk)

Mali's Oumou Sangare certainly didn't invent the Wassoulou sound, nor is she the only performer who specializes in it. But it is through her that the style, based in the musical traditions of Mali's southern regions, was brought assertively to the attention of a world already receptive to a variety of African music. Built around the relaxed but intense plucking of the kamalengoni (six-string harp), Wassoulou bespeaks the African origins of blues in the same respect as the music of Ali Farka Toure, along with a heightened tightness and urgency that is both propulsive and oddly beautiful. Guitar, bass, violin and scraped metallic percussion provide further depth and punctuation while lead and response vocals flow with a symbiotic fervor that ties everything together. It's a vibrant, commanding music, and Oumou Sangare has led the way with it via a combination of talent, range, boldness and a respect for tradition even as she stretches the boundaries. Her first two albums, Moussolou and Ko Sira (recorded in the early '90s and released internationally by World Circuit) were groundbreaking wonders aflame with the rhythms of Wassoulou and laced with lyrical subject matter that was risky in a conservative Muslim society like Mali's.

Sangare, only 21 at the time of the first album, sang of such things as female sensuality and women's rights in a soaring voice that trumpeted her arrival on the African music scene and beyond. A third album, 1996's Worotan (World Circuit), expanded the sound with horns, heightened percussion and a goodly injection of funk in the grooves. It won wide critical acclaim and boosted Sangare's international profile even higher. She seemed to all but disappear after that, but now World Circuit comes to the rescue with Oumou, a collection of past highlights and songs previously only released on cassette in Africa during the intervening years. So while the excitement that would accompany a full-on new Sangare release is not quite present, this two-disc set is sufficiently sumptuous for now. The new-to-CD tracks are a nice combination of familiarity and surprise, including nuggets rooted in tradition ("Wayeina," "Mogo Te Diya Bee Ye"), Afropop with Wassoulou strains ("Maladon," "Magnoumako"), dancefloor stomp ("Yala") and Afro-chill (a remix of Worotan's "Djorolen"). Even if you own Sangare's previous discs, consider this a must-have as well. It puts one of Africa's greatest women in perspective by offering a substantial musical look at where she's been, where she's at and where she's headed. - Tom Orr

Available from cdroots.com

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