on 10 July 2009
This is a fabulous album, so musically rich, vocally, instrumentally and lyrically; the production is superb. Savour it and allow it's beauties to unfold. We have been fortunate this year in that two Malian divas have released albums, Rokia Traore with Tchamantche and now this, Seya by Oumou Sangare, each different styles, each excellent.
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.
She is accompanied by 49 musicians over the 11 tracks, including Pee Wee Ellis, Tony Allen, Cheick Tidiane Seck and Bassekou Kouyate, and the blend of the traditional n'goni, balafon, flutes and percussive instruments with organ, guitar, sax and trombone is organic, not ornate, vibrant but not jarring.
The CD is attractively packaged and includes English and French lyrics with an explanation of each song, although not Oumou's singing tongue(s), however you can easily enjoy the music without following the lyrics. If you are new to African music this is an excellent starting point. Mali is blessed with rich music from it's cultural diversity; there are 32 ethnic groups. If you wish to delve further into the variety which Mali offers I suggest you try the following, mainly recent, releases:
the late Ali Farka Toure - Savanne, Talking Timbuktoo (with Ry Cooder),
Rokia Taore - Bowmboi, or the latest Tchamantche,
Salif Keita - The Mansa of Mali....A Retrospective, or Moffou,
Bassekou Kouyate and N'goni Ba - Segu Blue
Toumani Diabate - In the Heart of The Moon (with Ali Farka Toure), The Mande Variations
Amadou & Miriam - the popular Dimanche A Bamako (produced by Manu Chao), or their latest Welcome To Mali (I haven't heard it yet, but it had good reviews),
or the desert blues band Tinariwen - Aman Iman: Water Is Life, or Amassakoul.
These are all differing styles and all appealing, and this is just Mali! To delve further into 'world music' check out Songlines (with free CD of sample tracks from recent releases) or fRoots (also with CD) magazines and/or the Rough Guide books called World Music. There is a whole world of music waiting to enrich your life; enjoy!!