Album Review: Oumou Sangaré – Moussolou [World Circuit, 16th April 2016]

It’s a real joy to see the re-release of this classic album Moussolou (Women), one that has been in my current playlist since it was first released internationally in 1991. It brought to the world’s attention the voice of singer Oumou Sangaré – a voice not only powerful in its own right but one that spoke for the women of Africa in a way that went way beyond her contemporaries. Seven albums and twenty-six years later the Malian diva and her Wassoulou style are well known, but Moussolou remains her defining album.

The six-track package is re-released with expanded sleeve notes including an interview with the artist and full translation of the lyrics – a vital addition considering their meanings. As a woman singing about the struggles and suffering of women in an oppressive society Sangaré certainly rocked the boat with her openness on topics such as romantic love, death and polygamy. “Women have a hard time in Africa” she stated when the album first came out. “We have no voice; our men do all our talking for us. My role is to speak directly to women…and show them that they can make their own decisions”.

Brimming with confidence the youthful singer starts off with the song ‘Djama Kaissoumou‘ (Let’s talk a little). It begins with a dynamic introduction on kamale ngoni and violin, soon launching into rolling rhythms and fluid vocal lines that rise and fall in the inimitable Wassoulou style. Then follow ‘Diaraby Nene‘ (Shivers of love) and ‘Woulou Bara Diagna‘ (Cruel Nostalgia), equally mesmerizing, with their rich textures and romantic messages. Track four, the title track ‘Moussolou‘ (Women), urges women to work for their country. It is a delight of memorable riffs with interweaving melodic and rhythmic patterns. Next up is ‘Diya Gneba‘ (My beloved), which denounces forced marriage and sings once more of romantic love. The scraper creates an hypnotic pulse. Emerging from the texture lovely guitar and violin riffs emerge, balanced by soaring vocals you never tire of. Finally comes ‘Ah Ndiya‘ (Oh My love), Sangaré biggest hit from the album. With its delightful unison riffs and strident vocals that burst with self-assurance it was -and remains -a real winner.

The musicians were not credited on the original sleeve notes, so let’s give it up for the wonderful Oumou Sinayoro & Nabintou Diakite (backing vocals), Brehima Diakite (kamala ngoni & percussion), Boubacar Diallo (guitar) and Aliou Traore (violin). But one important reason this recording has withstood the passage of time is due to Sangaré’s musical aesthetic and foresight in collaborating with her arranger and bass player, the late Amadou Ba Guindo. At a time when 80s synths and drum machines dominated much contemporary African music they rejected their use in favour of a more acoustic sound. The choice of instrumentation that gave Sangaré her trademark sound was scraper, violin, kamale ngoni, percussion and bass with backing vocals. Amadou Ba Guindo’s striking arrangements give the music a spacious, rolling and timeless feel that perfectly supports and enhances Sangaré’s singing style, and without which this powerful, trend-setting music may never have survived into the 21st century.