PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Malian Legend Oumou Sangaré Glows in Stripped-down Arrangements on 'Acoustic'

Photo: Courtesy of Missing Piece Group

On Acoustic, Oumou Sangaré's inner world shines through with particular clarity as the Songbird of Wassoulou performs stripped-down arrangements of some of the most powerful tracks she's recorded over the last 30 years.

Oumou Sangaré

Nø Førmat!

19 June 2020

Three decades into her career, it's hard not to speak of Oumou Sangaré in superlatives and clichés. She's one of the most prominent feminist voices in Mali, a businesswoman who has spoken out in song and deed against forced marriage and female genital cutting, bringing a new perspective to age-old traditions from the Wassoulou region south of the Niger River. She has won accolades across the globe for her music and her social work and is revered by her contemporaries across Africa and the world.

All of this hype matters when talking about Sangaré's new album. Every achievement and accolade that Sangaré has earned stems from the way she expresses her strengths and values. On Acoustic, her inner world shines through with particular clarity as the Songbird of Wassoulou performs stripped-down arrangements of some of the most powerful tracks she has recorded over the last 30 years.

On a purely sonic level, Oumou Sangaré's mellifluous voice is rightfully renowned for its fullness and energy. Here, a softer accompanying ensemble of luscious strings and gentle percussion allows Sangaré to take an exceptionally warm approach, her voice glowing through empty space. She shines, her voice potent even at its softest. It is also central to the instrumentation throughout Acoustic, which blooms rather than builds in a single direction, a radiant approach rather than a push -- which suits Sangaré well, allowing the sound to unfold around her charismatic presence.

Through these dulcet tones, Sangaré delivers heartfelt messages that range from the socially critical to the personally moving. The album opens with an airy arrangement of "Kamelemba", a statement of solidarity with and warning to women against the men who play with their hearts, lying to them and leaving them heartbroken. She is, as always, straightforward and sincere in her calls for truth, later echoed with equal passion. "Bena Bena" decries ingratitude and lifts the idea of being kind to one another. "Kounkoun" is a pointed takedown of slander from her perspective as a woman and public figure who has been subject to such lies throughout her career -- primarily due to outspoken and controversial songs like these. "Diaraby Nene" is a song about sensuality that established Sangaré as a woman willing to touch on taboo subjects early on in her career.

Her personal experiences continue to provide the basis of her lyrics on tracks like upbeat "Fadjamou", a song about the cultural importance of family names throughout Malian society. Solemn "Minata Waraba" sees Sangaré singing her mother's praises, paying tribute to her philanthropic nature and lifelong dignity. "Saa Magni" is a pensive reflection on death and a heartrendingly melancholy commemoration of the late bandleader Amadou Ba Guindo, who led a backing ensemble that supported Sangaré early on in her career.

More upbeat but no less close to her heart are Sangaré's songs of encouragement. Energetic "Djoukourou" underscores the importance of having support in life. Meanwhile, "Yere Faga", the lead single from 2017 album Mogoya, urges her audience to remember that even in the face of adversity and hatred, there is always something worth living for -- and she, oft-maligned by supporters of the status quo, should know. The album ends with "Mali Niale", a song of love and hope for Mali as a nation and a reminder that life is too short to waste.

For the sheer conceptual simplicity of an acoustic album of earlier hits, there's still a certain amount of risk to it. In such a format, an artist's raw musical and lyrical skills are exposed. Not everyone has the talent and the versatility to make such an album palatable, much less interesting. Oumou Sangaré, though, has it all: arresting voice, evergreen lyrics, and a team of virtuosic accompanists. Acoustic is a dream, a blissful installment in a career that continues to flourish.

Photo: Courtesy of Missing Piece Group


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.


Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.


MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.