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Musician of the Week: Oumou Sangare

19 August 2016 at 04:48 | 2420 views

Oumou Sangaré (born February 25, 1968 in Bamako, Mali) is a Grammy Award-winning Malian Wassoulou musician, sometimes referred to as "The Songbird of Wassoulou". Wassoulou is a historic region south of the Niger River, and the music there is descended from traditional hunting songs, and is accompanied by a calabash. Sangaré’s mother was the singer Aminata Diakité.

Early life

As a child, Oumou Sangaré sang in order to help her mother feed their family as her father had abandoned them. At the age of five, she was well known for her talents as a gifted singer. After making it to the finals of a contest for the nursery schools of Bamako, she performed in front of a crowd of 6,000 at the Omnisport Stadium. At 16, she went on tour with the percussion group Djoliba.

Sangaré recorded her first album, Moussoulou ("Women"), with Amadou Ba Guindo, a renowned maestro of Malian music. The album was very successful in Africa, with more than 200,000 copies sold.

With the help of Ali Farka Touré, Sangaré signed with the English label World Circuit. At the age of 21, she was already a star.

Oumou Sangaré is considered an ambassador of Wassoulou; her music has been inspired by the music and traditional dances of the region. She writes and composes her songs, which often include social criticism, especially concerning women’s low status in society.

Since 1990, she has performed at some of the most important venues in the world: the Melbourne Opera, Roskilde festival, festival d’Essaouira, Opéra de la monnaie of Brussels.

Many of Sangaré’s songs concern love and marriage, especially freedom of choice in marriage. Her 1989 album Moussoulou was an unprecedented West African hit. In 1995, she toured with Baaba Maal, Femi Kuti and Boukman Eksperyans. Other albums include Ko Sira (1993), Worotan (1996), and a 2-CD compilation Oumou (2004), all released on World Circuit Records. Sangaré supports the cause of women throughout the world. She was named an ambassador of the FAO in 2003 and won the UNESCO Prize in 2001 and was made a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters of France in 1998.

Sangaré is featured prominently in Throw Down Your Heart, a 2008 documentary about world-renowned American banjo player Béla Fleck, and his exploration of the relatively unknown relationship between his instrument and the musical traditions in Africa.

Sangaré contributed vocals to "Imagine" for the 2010 Herbie Hancock album The Imagine Project, along with Seal, P!nk, India.Arie, Jeff Beck, Konono Nº1 and others.
Personal life, politics and business

Oumou Sangaré is an advocate for women’s rights, opposing child marriage and polygamy.

Sangaré is also involved in the world of business, including hotels, agriculture and automobiles. She has launched a car, the "Oum Sang", manufactured by a Chinese firm and marketed in conjunction with her own company Gonow Oum Sang. She is the owner of the 30-room Hotel Wassoulou in Mali’s capital, Bamako, a haven for musicians and her own regular performing space. "I helped build the hotel myself. I did it to show women that you can make your life better by working. And many more are working these days, forming co-operatives to make soap or clothes."

Sangaré has also been a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, but says she does not want to be a politician: "While you’re an artist, you’re free to say what you think; when you’re a politician, you follow instructions from higher up."

She is a cousin of actor Omar Sangare.

Prizes and awards

IMC-UNESCO International Music Prize (2001, performers category, jointly awarded to Gidon Kremer) for her contribution to "the enrichment and the development of music as well as for the cause of peace, for the understanding among peoples and international cooperation".

On 16 October 2003, Oumou Sangaré was named Goodwill Ambassador of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

In 2010, Oumou Sangaré’s album, Seya, was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Music Album.

In 2011, Oumou Sangaré won a Grammy for Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals with Herbie Hancock for ’Imagine’. Here is Oumou Sangare doing Mogo Kele: