Amadou and Mariam need near to no introduction: they have been chart topping the west African music scene for decades together. I was honoured to catch them and chat to them about their music making, community and music in Mali, and plans for the future.
@ WOMAD Festival 2017
Wassoulou / Mali / Feminism / Social Commentary
Having recorded her first album ‘Moussolou’ in 1989 in Bamako Mali, Oumou Sangare has made the music of her homeland: the Wassoulou region in Mali one of the signature sounds to make it globally from West Africa. As well as this, Oumou has globalised the local sound of the Kamale Ngoni.
Having been singing since a young child, and catching the attention of many, including African blues maestro Ali Farka Touré, as a voice of her generation. Oumou even went on tour at the age of 16 with the percussion group Djoliba, and by the age of 21 Oumou was already a star.
Aside being the ambassador for Wassoulou, Oumou has alway used her voice, local and globally for social comment. Specifically commenting on topics such as women status in society, child marriage and genital mutilation. Her first album was an unprecedented hit in West Africa with over 200,000 copies sold locally, consequently in the coming years, Oumou played at every major venue in the world, and toured with global legends.
Using her voice for women across the world, Oumou was named ambassador of the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organisation - fighting hunger across the world), furthermore she won the UNESCO (promotion of peace and security) prize in 2001 for her work speaking out on social issues.
Of course in the proceeded eight studio albums, Grammy nominations, amongst many other awards have showered Oumou, and she is celebrating her latest album release ‘Mogoya’ (2017) by playing a few gigs around the world.
I find myself here at WOMAD Festival 2017 about to talk to Oumou Sangare before her big show on the main stage. As I wait with her for our translator I am taken aback by her sheer presence. An energy emanated from Oumou has an intensely powerful, righteous woman. A little humbled, I began….
Sophie Darling (SD) : Firstly, it is such an honour to be sitting here opposite you. I am in love with your music, and also with your activism.
You’re an advocate for women rights, I wanted to talk about the difficulties of your strife? Was being an advocate for women rights and such a conscious decision you made to use your voice to make these political opinions, or was it something that came naturally? Something you felt you had to do?
Omou Sangare (OS) : Very difficult, very. It was a conscious decision, I didn’t have an easy childhood, my mother was sick a lot, I felt I needed to fight to make her happy, to allow her to be happy, I wanted to fight for the injustice, against the injustice of being so sad all of that time
SD:I am aware that one of your albums is entitled ‘Ten Kola Nuts’ which is the going currency for a Malian wife, can you tell us about that concept? Why did you want to talk about it?
OS: It’s like a marriage package, It’s like an engagement, it’s an asking. There’ a lot of different stages in marriage, the engagement stage, then you have the devot-age stage. Basically I wanted to talk and use it as a symbol to talk about marriage, because for me that’s what deprives women of her rights, ok marriage can go well and it’s good for her, but if it goes badly, then the woman will be deprived of her life, she might become a slave, and she doesn’t want that to happen, it’s a symbol… it’s symbolic.
SD: At what age did you start to play with the music Are your family musical? Where you encouraged to play music?
OS: My mother, my mother *laughs* didn’t want me to leave school to follow music, but she did want me to sing, because my own mother was a great singer, my grandmother was a musical star as well, and so my mother encouraged me, as my mum said she would hear her mothers voice in me, but she didn’t want me just to be a singer, she wanted me to follow my studies as well as be a singer.
SD: Has your mother managed to see you perform at all?
OS: Now yes *laughs* oh. No no no, go to school Oumor, she waited until I was a big girl, she waited until I was professional, yes.
SD: I know that in the early days, Nick Gold the record producer of World Circuits took an interest in you after he was handed a tape of your recordings. How did you find things changed for you? Were the social barriers surrounding gender and music easy for you to manoeuvre? Were difficulties enhanced?
OM: No, the story about how he heard the music was that Ali Farke Touré was a huge huge fan of mine . So when the first record came out, he was screaming my name everywhere, and telling everyone about it, and playing the music, this is when Nick heard it for the first time, and then he went to Bamako and he said he heard it everywhere everywhere, he said oh I love that women voice, I would like to meet her.
SD: Wassoulou music, I was wondering if we could ask a little about that, as I don’t know much about it.
OS: So Wassoulou is the music for dancing, for rejoicing, for relaxing, but it always carries a message
SD: Do you have any pre/post gig rituals for good luck?
OS:*laughs* Oh yeah, sometimes, I pour a small amount of water on the ground, sometimes I might forget, but always I try to do it, for the ancestors, for my grandmother.
SD: Were you taught to sing, or where you born this way?
OS: I was born with it
I left feeling charged up by Oumous very presence. I joined the huge crowd awaiting by the main stage to watch the Songbird of Wassoulou take to the stage. Loved by an adoring audience, Oumour Sangare exploded the stage with her powerful voice that emanated across the festival. Playing old and new tunes, Oumou focused mainly on her album. With dedications to women, wives and mothers, the reaction was of indulgence and love as the audience danced and sung throughout the entire performance.
I was honoured to have spoken to Oumou Sangare, and can confirm that the new album is fabulous.