Oumou Sangaré: Mogoya

With her first new music in eight years, Oumou Sangaré proves she’s still the queen of Malian music on Mogoya.

Oumou Sangaré
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Shout it from the rooftops: Oumou Sangaré is back! Eight years after her last studio album release, Mogoya signals the triumphant return of the queen. In some ways, it’s markedly different from her previous releases; the production is bolder, the instrumentation more varied – and it features Afrobeat founder Tony Allen, which is the musical equivalent of a papal blessing – but lyrically, it’s a strong continuation of her life’s work thus far.

For those unfamiliar with Oumou Sangaré, here are the highlights: she’s a Grammy-winning artist who has single-handedly brought traditional music from the Malian region of Wassoulou into the international spotlight. She’s also a longtime women’s rights activist, a successful businesswoman, and a former goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. The perspective she brings to each song is a well-formed one, and she never holds back on important issues.

Outspoken about her opposition to child marriage and polygamy (her father abandoned her family for a second wife when she was a child), Sangaré has broken boundaries with what she has been willing to sing about, but she’s also faced criticism from those who benefit from the status quo. “Yere faga” alludes to the emotional cost of her actions with a universal message of hope. “Life on this earth is not easy,” she sings, “and people will always talk ill of you, no matter what you do.” With Tony Allen’s instantly recognizable drumming (hot and cool and unequivocally masterful) backing her up, she encourages her audience to keep moving forward.

Her powerful voice comes through on Mogoya with fantastic clarity, though not for lack of accompaniment. The traditional instruments that have been the mainstay of many an Oumou Sangaré album – n’goni, karignan, calabash – still sparkle, but not alone. Sounds of the past meet sounds of the future across the tracklist to great textural effect from the very start as acoustic and electric instruments join forces on opening track “Bena bena” and interact brilliantly from that point forth.

Bare n’goni on “Kamelemba” quickly leads into an ethereal chorus, upon which Sangaré spins playful verses warning women of playboys. Thin synths add a layer of coy sweetness that dances with the earthy swell of traditional instruments that keeps on growing as the song draws to its eventual conclusion: her solo voice on a final long note.

Near the end of Mogoya, “Minata waraba” (“Aminata the lioness”) is a tribute to the singer’s mother that sees her at her most expressive. Synths and guitar embellish, but this is a song that draws on the great depths of Sangaré’s soaring love for her mother, and the traditional sounds that abound take her higher. Following that to finish off the album is the downtempo title track, a simple, melancholy blend of steady bass, fluttering synths, and compelling vocals.

In between all of this is a cornucopia of life-affirming music: driving “Fadjamou” brings ferocious rhythms, “Mali niale” evokes Sangaré’s earlier albums, and “Djoukourou” and “Kounkoun” add extra soul and a hit of funk to the mix.

The instant Oumou Sangaré started releasing new music for this album, it felt like the Afropop world came alive. All the hottest West African musicians have been singing her praises on social media since the first single, congratulating her for continuing to be on top of the world and refusing to ever back down. It’s well-deserved acclaim. Sangaré is a force, and on Mogoya, she makes some truly showstopping waves.

RATING 9 / 10