It's time for Tuesday Reviewsday, our weekly new music segment. This week music journalist Steve Hochman joins A Martinez with a list of new songs.
Here are his picks:
“Look at me,” sings Oumou Sangaré in her native Malian language Wassoulou. “I did not kill myself over pain.”
It’s not a survivor’s boast, or a cry for pity, or even a confessional. The song, “Yere Faga (Suicide),” is a deeply heartfelt plea to her fellow Malians, suffering greatly under oppression and strife, to persevere, if not for themselves then for their families and communities. “Your children love you, don’t kill yourself over any kind of pain,” she sings, addressing her many appeals to various people by name. “Why would you kill yourself and leave us in deep sorrow?”
She takes the role both of example and leader, recounting the gossip and lies that have followed her throughout a long, notable career as one of Mali’s music stars, accusations of drug use, of pornography, of other allegations of transgressions she says were false. “But Oumou did not take her own life.”
It’s a powerful statement from a respected icon (she has her own model of SUVs sold in Mali and serves as an ambassador for the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization), an artist known for the power marking her music since a landmark 1990 debut album. “Mogoya” is only her sixth studio album in that span and her first in eight years, a time which has brought much change to her life and dramatic changes in her homeland. As the title, meaning “people today,” indicates, she takes in all that is happening now, with a stern, loving eye befitting her position as something of a maternal figure to many there. “Bena Bena (Ingratitude)” opens the album encouraging people to stay strong in the face of negativity and “Kamelemba (Womaniser)” takes cads to task. But it’s not all negative: several songs honor people of virtue and “Mali Niale (Beautiful Mali)” explores the nation’s attributes as she calls for those who have left to return and renew the land.
But where the lyrics speak directly to Mali’s people, women in particular, there’s also a global reach in the music. The album was made partly in Stockholm with producer Andreas Unge and partly in Paris with the French trio A.l.b.e.r.t., known for work with Air and Beck among others. Tony Allen, the Nigerian drummer who helped shape modern Afrobeat working with Fela Kuti, lends his combo of force and grace on “Yere Faga.” Throughout there is a very effective, distinctive, complementary mix of traditional and modern sounds. “Bena Bena” leans more to the former. “FaDJamou (Family Name)” goes more modern for one of the album’s most dynamic, frenetic songs, but with ancient modes and sounds woven in. And on the yearning title song which closes the album, she addresses what she sees as the insincerities of modern relationships, her powerful voice backed only by ancient, plucked n’goni. Ultimately it’s that, the traditions of many generations, that give the album its depth and strength, in the music and profoundly in her messages.