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It has been eight years since Oumou Sangaré,  the greatest living female voice in African music, last released an album of new material and much has changed since then.

The power of her voice and the potency of her message remain inviolable.  Now with a new label, an all-new production ...

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Ben Michaels

Oumou Sangaré, the Greatest Living Female Voice in African Music, Releases New Single "Yere Faga" Featuring Tony Allen

New Album: MOGOYA (May 19th, 2017, No Format label)

It has been eight years since Oumou Sangaré,  the greatest living female voice in African music, last released an album of new material and much has changed since then.

The power of her voice and the potency of her message remain inviolable.  Now with a new label, an all-new production team and a vital new set of songs, her latest album Mogoya (roughly translated as ‘people today’) represents an exciting new chapter in Oumou’s storied career.

While her sound remains deeply rooted deep in Malian tradition, this is Oumou as we have never heard her before. Recorded in Stockholm by Andreas Unge, and produced in Paris with the crack French production team A.L.B.E.R.T. (Vincent Taurelle, Ludovic Bruni and Vincent Taeger), Mogoya is a record that both draws upon a rich musical heritage and leans towards the future.

Traditional African instruments such as the kamele n'goni (harp), karignan (metal scraper) and calabash (gourd used for percussion) are complimented by electric guitar, bass, keyboards and even synths. The legendary drummer Tony Allen, once Fela Kuti’s bandleader and the co-creator of Afrobeat, guests on drum kit.

“We wanted to emphasise the raw power of Oumou’s voice and songs and to avoid the glossy smoothness of so many current African productions,” says Ludovic Bruni, who, along with his co-producers Taurelle and Taeger, has worked with the likes of Air, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Beck, and Franz Ferdinand. “We wanted to find a new modernity".

While only the fifth studio album since Oumou’s spectacular debut heralded the arrival of an audacious and fearless new African voice some twenty-seven years ago, Mogoya sounds and feels like it represents a career defining moment; it is the ripe fruit grown out of her experiences over the course of a lifetime spent confronting prejudices and obstacles - and triumphing over them.

“This album is the result of many years of work. I’ve collaborated with many people and I’ve been able to observe people’s mentality,” Oumou says. “This time around I wanted to go for more of a modern sound, to satisfy young people in Mali, but being careful, all the while, to respect my culture and my tradition.”

Stylish, elegant, feisty, and charismatic with a soulful, soaring voice, Sangaré has become an emblem for African womanhood and a powerful role model for young women. Born in 1969 in the Malian capital of Bamako, the moment she identifies as shaping her career occurred when she was just two years old. With her mother, Aminata Diakité, struggling to raise a brood of young children and pregnant with another, Oumou’s father took a second wife, abandoned his family and emigrated to Côte d'Ivoire.

This desertion sank her mother, a singer who made her living performing at traditional wedding ceremonies and baptisms, into a deep depression. But it also made her “a fighter”, a quality Oumou inherited in abundance along with her mother’s singing talent. By the time she was five, mother and daughter were singing together and by the age of thirteen, Oumou had become the family’s main breadwinner. "That's what has given me strength in my life,” she says. “It was a very hard childhood and it gave me an incredible character. I can face up to any obstacle".

The years of poverty and sorrow also informed her music. Throughout her career, she has used her songs to campaign fearlessly to improve the position of women in Mali and to oppose polygamy, child marriage, and a system that defines a ‘good wife’ as a submissive woman. “Ever since I was a kid, I promised myself that one day I will scream about this problem to the whole world,” she says.

It was no coincidence that her first album was titled Moussolou (‘Women’); or that her next album, Ko Sira, included a song titled “Dugu Kamalemba” (which translates as ‘the skirt-chaser’); or that the title of her third album, Worotan (‘Ten kola nuts’) was a reference to the price of a bride in an arranged marriage.

She also wrote “Magnoumako” (‘Agony’) about her mother’s suffering, “how she wept, how she was marginalised, how she was ignored, how she struggled,” The song appeared in 2003 on the compilation, Oumou. “How can an African woman hear that song without crying?” she asked at the time.

Her mother’s spirit continues to inspire her music - one of Mogoya’s key songs is “Minata Waraba”(‘Aminata the Lioness’), a tribute to her mother’s courage and resilience. “Women have a hard time in Africa. We have no voice; our men do all our talking for us,” Oumou says. “My role is to speak directly to women both through my songs and setting an example and showing them that they can make their own decisions. I was the first one who started to speak out about correcting the inequalities and injustice that women still endure in Mali.”

Although born in Bamako, Oumou’s parents came from Wassoulou - a wooded region in southern Mali, which straddles the borders of both Ivory Coast and Guinea - which she regards as her cultural and spiritual home. The region boasts a rich and distinctive tradition based around the special place in village life afforded to the caste of hunters, whose hypnotic, rhythmic music played on the kamele n'goni has from the outset exerted a powerful influence on Sangaré’s music.

In her teens she joined the Djoliba Percussion band, with whom she toured Europe in 1986. She then went on to record her debut album at the age of twenty. Upon its release in 1990, Moussolou was a sensation in Mali, selling more than 200,000 copies on cassette. The album proved highly controversial, both for her espousal of women’s rights and the song “Diaraby Nene” (‘the shivers of love’) which shocked a highly conservative society with its erotic expression of female sensuality.

“People couldn’t believe my music. They would say ‘what she sings about is heavy. She’s denouncing polygamy, she’s encouraging women to stand up to their husbands, she’s got guts’,” Sangaré recalls. “It was a kind of musical revolution. Every household in Bamako had a copy of that album and my mother was so happy that she cried.”

The album was released outside Mali a year later on World Circuit, marking the beginning of a long association with the label, for whom she went on to record three further albums between 1993 and 2009.

The long gaps between record releases were largely due to her heavy touring schedule. On the international stage she won the UNESCO International Music Prize (2001), became a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (2003), collaborated and recorded with Bela Fleck (2010) and Dee Dee Bridgewater (2007), sang live on French TV with Alicia Keys (2002) and was featured on the soundtrack of Beloved, the film based on Toni Morrison’s novel and starring Oprah Winfrey (1998).

At home she built a significant business empire, owning and running a hotel, launching a range of 4×4 pick-ups and SUVs called the ‘Oum Sang’ in partnership with a Chinese manufacturer and marketing ‘Oumou Sangaré Rice’, proudly grown in her own fields.

After more than twenty years with World Circuit, she describes her move to the Paris-based No Format! label as “a bit nerve-wracking” but one she feels she had to make in order to expand her horizons and find new energy.

“When we had the opportunity to sign Oumou, it felt like an exceptional chance,” says No Format! founder Laurent Bizot. “It was difficult to better the World Circuit albums by working in the same genre, so our concept was to seek a new sound and direction, keeping the magic of the Wassoulou melodies and traditional instruments but finding a harmonious marriage with more contemporary sounds.”

She approached the project, he reports, with a mixture of boldness, humility and confidence that are the hallmarks of a supreme artist.

“It was new for me, because my music has never had this kind of arrangement and sound before,” Oumou says. “I’ve been totally in the tradition for years now so to get out of that and have a look around elsewhere was a total pleasure.”

Notes to editors:

Nø Førmat! is a small independent label based in Paris that has been recognized as an ‘inspiring young label’ by the Independent Music Publishers and Labels Association. The label was started in 2004 by producer Laurent Bizot, who was on a mission to produce original, innovative and atypical recordings without pandering to their commercial potential. Bizot deliberately set out to create a label that would nurture artistic talent and quality over signing easily marketable artists. His strategy soon bore fruit when a solo piano record by the Canadian electro-maverick Gonzales, released in 2005, sold over 100,000 copies and gave the label its best possible start. There have been some notable hits over the past decade, such as revered collaborations between the French cellist Vincent Segal and the Malian kora player Ballaké Sissoko and with the Paris-based, British singer-songwriter, ALA.NI. Nø Førmat! has always maintained its conviction that the public will always appreciate adventurous and superbly performed music packaged with style. The artwork for Oumou Sangaré’s album has been created by young Congolese artist, J.P. Mika. The artist is based in Kinshasa and centres his work around portraits with highly colourful backgrounds using floral print fabrics and old-fashioned style wallpaper. In 2017, Nø Førmat! continues to been true to its name and the epithet on which it was founded: “You never know in advance what you’ll fall in love with!”