18. Oumou Sangaré, Mogoya (No Format)
Malian singer Oumou Sangaré has generally embraced a traditional sound, even when her lyrics challenge antique patriarchal mores, but she takes a thrilling turn on Mogoya. She made the album in Stockholm with French production crew A.L.B.E.R.T., whose members have worked with pop artists such as Beck, Air, and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Normally I'd get nervous reading a sentence like that, but Mogoya is one of the best things Sangaré has ever done. Her rich, authoritative voice has always required very little support to convey its power, and the producers seem to understand that—they've simply added subtle electronic textures and enhanced some of the rhythms. Sangaré grew up in Bamako, Mali's urban capital, but her music has consistently drawn on the hunter songs of the Wassoulou region, in which women sing call-and-response melodies over a rustic blend of kora, n'goni, and hand percussion. Over the years Sangaré has added electric bass and electric guitar, but traditional instruments have remained the core of her sound—and they dominate on Mogoya as well. In her subject matter, though, she's been bolder: she's increasingly challenged traditional practices such as polygamy, genital mutilation, and the suppression of female sensuality.