This is Malian diva supreme Oumou Sangare’s first new album in nine years and only her fifth in a career that spans three decades. It’s well worth the wait. The possessor of one of the finest voices on the planet, Sangare has taken a leap into the unknown here, moving from her longstanding home on World Circuit Records, over to the French No Format! label and spiking her sound with a more contemporary edge (the album’s title translates as ‘people today’).
Not that she’s abandoned the music of her Wassoulou ancestry. I doubt that she could, even if she wanted to. It’s in every inflection of her voice, its rhythms deeply ingrained into every song, with traditional instruments such as the n’goni cropping up all over the place. But on this album it’s incorporated into something daringly different. Recorded in Stockholm and Paris with producer Andreas Unge and the Parisian production collective ALBERT, Mogoya eschews the coffee table fusion that usually blights such attempts to internationalise a roots African sound and plumps instead for something raw and rhythm-driven.
Former Fela Kuti sideman and all-round godfather of Afrobeat drummers Tony Allen guests on Yere Faga; there’s an all-stops-out stomper in Fadjamou and Minata Wiraba (‘Minata The Lioness’) is a powerful tribute to her mother, the singer Aminata Diakite. But trying to pick out highlights is fairly futile given the high quality of all nine tracks. OK, the album clocks in at little more than 40 minutes, but the quality-over-quantity approach reaps some serious dividends.
And Sangare’s voice sounds as strong, sultry and agile as ever. Weaving around the backing singers and spare, imaginative arrangements, cutting loose with a few sustained soul-siren wails, totally in control, yet bursting at the seams.
With this album and the recent triumphant return of Orchestra Baobab, we appear to be in a golden age for West African musical comebacks. Although, with its slap-bang assertion of female power and sonic power and invention, the current release this reminds me of the most is Eliza Carthy and the Wayward Band’s Big Machine. Yes, it’s that good.
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