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Seya (Joy) is the first album in six years from 'Mali's Star of Stars' and it reaffirms her position as one of Africa's great female vocalists and an African phenomenon.
The album was recorded in Bamako, and co-produced by Nick Gold, Oumou Sangare and Cheick Tidiane Seck. Musicians on the album include fellow World Circuit artist and kora virtuoso Toumani Diabaté, the great guitarist Djelimady Tounkara, afrobeat legend Tony Allen, Living Colour drummer Will Calhoun and Magic Malik on flute.
Seya sees Oumou Sangare attain a new level of sophistication, maturity and variety, all underpinned by her trademark funk-driven Wassoulou sound. As with her previous albums all the songs on Seya were written by Sangare.Oumou Sangare is the most popular female singer in Mali and alongside Salif Keita she is arguably the country's most famous musician. And this in a country renowned for its music where stars such as Amadou and Mariam, Toumani Diabaté, Bassekou Kouyate, Rokia Traoré and Ali Farka Touré have dominated the world music scene in the international arena.
On the international stage her albums and explosive performances have earned her an enviable reputation. Oumou is sought out for collaborations by a wide range of international stars including Alicia Keys, Béla Fleck, Trilok Gurtu and Meshell Ndeogeocello. She also counts Oprah Winfrey as a fan.
It's been too long since any album proper from the 'songbird of Wassoulou'. Although the compilation Oumou (2004) included previously unreleased material, (mostly cherry-picked from her Mali-only 2001 release Laban, and reworked), her last internationally promoted record was Worotan in 1996. Thankfully Seya doesn't disappoint - it's the best thing since her marvellous 1991 debut Moussoulou, which is one of the all time great treasures of Malian music.
Seya traverses a wide range of moods, from confident and celebratory to more austere, stripped down meditations. And while few artists give as good a groove as Oumou, the latter are often the best settings to appreciate her extraordinary voice; if Aretha Franklin had grown up in Bamako, she might have sounded something like this.
Apart from the declamatory Donso - an adaptation of a traditional Wassoulou hunter's song - the material is all original as usual, and the basis of her distinctive sound remains the twitching, funky sound of the kamel n'goni('youth harp'), mostly played by 'Benogo' Brehima Diakité. But with fifty musicians taking part, there's more variety of sounds and textures than ever. She's used electric guitar before, but never with the kind of squealing rock treatments heard on Senkele Te Sira and Kounadya, which also features a great retro Hammond organ solo by co-producer Cheick TidianeSeck. There's brass and the occasional deft use of strings, as well as guests such as flautist 'Magic' Malik Mazzadri and drummer Tony Allen, but none are allowed to overshadow the star.
Though it's difficult to pick highlights from such a consistent album, the driving opener Sounsoumba and the radiantly joyful title track, with its lovely swooping chorus vocals, are the most instantly appealing of the more upbeat pieces. Despite a great percussive thrust, Wele Wele Wintou is the one track with a vocal not quite up to Sangare's usual stratospheric standards, and the only song where the brass section feels a little out of place. But the hypnotic likes of Sukunyali, or the mesmerising balafon (wooden xylophone) tones of Iyo Djeli and Mogo Kele more than make up for minor shortcomings. --Jon Lusk
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Top Customer Reviews
Many African albums are influenced by Western sounds, with varying degrees of success, but Oumou Sangare has retained the traditional sound and feel of her homeland. No cheesy synths or guitars here, but gutsy rootsy sounds that reach out and grab the listener from beginning to end.
On this album as on others she sings about taboo subjects like polygamy, under-aged forced marriage, sensual love and the role of women in African society. Clearly she has a strong sense of values and that strength pervades this very confident and soulful album.
The funky Wassoulou sound, recorded in Bamako, arranged and produced by Cheikh Tidiane Seck (who must know just about everyone in the African music industry) is sophisticated and intricate so there is depth and joy ("Seya") on many levels.
This is Oumou Sangare's fifth release including the Oumou compilation from 2004. She has been praised as The Songbird of Wassoulou, this being the style of music which developed from ancient hunting songs and is associated with the Wasulu region south of the Niger. On this album Oumou writes her own material, some based upon traditional songs, but make no mistake, this is modern music with modern themes.
In her songwriting she assumes the responsibility of her position, as she sees it, by using lyrics to address complex and traditional social issues such as the forced marriages of young girls, emigration, family unity, hope and support within the community and general respect for women. Indeed the song Koundaya is about using God given luck well, as though she reminds herself to do so. The lyrics are rich with metaphor, morality tales, proverbs and local sayings. I imagine that Oumou might have some resistance within her community from conservative elements.
Although the lyrics may appear weighty, the overriding impression is one of joy and hope. Seya itself means Joy. The music is exuberant with both male and female call and response, buoyant and colourful with a mix of traditional and modern instrumentation, and above all Oumou's supple, muscular voice sweeps, soars, dives and punctuates. It is a rhythmic vehicle, as well as melodic, unforced and natural.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
'SEYA', meaning 'joy', Oumou Sangaré's new CD, is a delight to listen to. You can also dance to it! Read morePublished on 12 Sept. 2009 by Friederike Knabe
Another great album from a truly great artist. If you love the music of Mali, this one's for you.Published on 9 April 2009 by TMN
As one might expect from Oumou Sangare, this is total quality. Faultless stuff. Highly recommended.Published on 5 April 2009 by Graham Mitchell