Tag Archives: Mali

Artist Profiles: Las Maravillas de Mali

Las Maravillas de Mali

Formed in the early 1960s, Las Maravillas de Mali became an iconic ensemble of the Afro-Cuban musical tradition, singing in Spanish, Bambara and French.

In the middle of the Cold War, the early 1960s was a period of Communist camaraderie between the Africa of independence and the revolutionary Cuba of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. In 1964, the Cuban government invited ten young musicians from Mali to study in Havana. These young artists spent seven years studying music in Cuba, marking the establishment of Las Maravillas de Mali.

The group recorded one self-titled album in 1968 that included the song that became one of the greatest hits in this revolutionary era: “Rendez-Vous Chez Fatimata,” combining Cuban influences with traditional Malian music.

Las Maravillas de Mali’s story came to the attention of French producer Richard Minier in 1999 and he worked to recreate the ensemble. Together with the band’s remaining survivor and original member, Boncana Maïga, Minier retraced the group’s steps and went to Havana on several occasions, re-recording new versions of the album’s songs in the same surroundings as before, in the now famed Egrem studios.

In 2018, the orchestra was revived again in an effort led by Malian musician and founder Boncana Maïga, Cuban pianist Manolito, Beninese vocalist Jospinto and Guinean vocalist Mory Kanté.


Maravillas De Mali (Disco Stock, 1968)
Maravillas De Mali (Maestro Sound, 1999)


Artist Profiles: Rokia Traore

Rokia Traore

Rokia Traore was born in 1974 and comes from Bamako. Though-steeped in tradition, Rokia Traore’s music is thoroughly integrated into a contemporary sound, thanks to her upbringing in a multicultural environment. Unlike many other Malian singers she does not come from the jali caste, but rather from the class sponsoring them.

Her father was a diplomat, and so she lived in many different places away from Mali: Algeria, Saudi Arabia, France, and Belgium. As a result, Rokia Traore has managed to integrate the atmospheres of great many places into her recordings. She grew up listening to all types of music, Algerian and Malian music, jazz, blues, reggae and afropop, and her original career choice was social sciences. Yet once she decided to become an artist instead, the great guitarist, singer and sound engineer Ali Farka Toure, who encouraged and recorded many of the upcoming, independent, and innovative Malian performers, became her mentor.

Rokia Traoré

Another big influence is Massembou Diallo. He used to play with Rokia’s father in an amateur band called Chiwa Band. He encouraged her to make music and composed Rokia’s first two pieces together with her.

Rokia was the winner of the African Discoveries award.


Mouneïssa (Indigo, 1998)
Wanita (Indigo, 2000)
Bowmboï (Indigo, 2003)
Tchamantché (Indigo, 2008)
Beautiful Africa (Nonesuch, 2013)
Né So (Nonesuch, 2016)


Artist Profiles: Salif Keita

Salif Keita

A master of West African rhythms and credited as one of the founders of the Afropop genre, Salif Keita is world renowned for his unforgettable live performances, soaring vocals and his emotionally-fueled songs.

Born in Mali, West Africa in 1949, Salif Keita comes from a noble family, and is a descendant of Sunjata Keita, who founded the Mali Empire in 1240. Salif Keita was the third of thirteen children born to Sina Keita, a landowner in the village of Djoliba, where he grew up, near Mali’s capital, Bamako.

Born albino in a land of blistering sun and heat, with limited eyesight and poor despite his social standing, his mother had to hide him to avoid the attacks of the superstitious crowds who called for his death. In addition to the problems of growing up as an albino, Keita found the opposition of his family to his interest in becoming a singer since the traditions of his ancestry excluded members of the nobility from becoming singers. Keita’s decision to become a musician broke an important taboo as in Mali as only the lower jeli class made its living from music.

In 1970, at the age of 18, Salif Keita left Djoliba for Bamako, where he spent time as a street musician and playing in bars. The first group that he worked with was the legendary Super Rail Band, a state-supported ensemble that was based at a Bamako railway station hotel, and served as an important launching pad for the careers of numerous West African musicians, including kora player and singer Mory Kante, and guitarist Kante Manfila.

In 1973, Salif Keita left the Rail Band, and with guitarist Kante Manfila he joined Les Ambassadeurs, which later became Les Ambassadeurs International. The new group developed the fusion between traditional music and western electric influences. 1977 saw Salif Keita being awarded the National Order of Guinea by Sekou Toure, the Guinean President. By that time, Salif Keita had also discovered American singers like Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles and Tina Turner. Their powerful way of singing and presence on stage taught Keita a lot about live performances.

Restricted by the limited opportunities and political climate in Mali, the group moved south and set up base in Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, where they performed and recorded successfully during the late 1970s. The epic 12 minute track “Mandjou”, that is featured on the Mansa of Mali album, was recorded live in Abidjan during this period.

In 1984 Les Ambassadeurs Internationales broke up, and Salif Keita moved to Paris, launching a career that saw him recording the classic Soro album in 1987, produced by Ibrahim Sylla.

A recording deal with Island Records followed, which resulted in the release of the album Ko-Yan in 1989, an album influenced by influential jazz fusion band Weather Report, and that led directly to Salif’s collaboration with Weather Report keyboardist, composer and arranger Joe Zawinul in 1990. With help from Carlos Santana, Wayne Shorter and a number of carefully picked musicians from Mali and France, Zawinul produced Amen, the album that made Salif the first African band leader to win a Grammy nomination.

The impressive Mansa of Mali retrospective was released in 1993 to coincide with Salif Keita’s tours of the United States, and Southern Africa. Recorded in Paris, New York and Bamako, his album, Papa, features special guests Vernon Reid (Living Color), Grace Jones and John Medeski, an album of the new African/American music, bringing together musicians from Mali and America.

On his 2002 album, Moffou, Salif Keita was joined by excellent musicians, including Cape Verdian diva Cesaria Evora on the track Yamore, guitar-hero Djeli Moussa Kouyaté from Guinea, and his old freind Kanté Manfila (acoustic guitar), both of them long-time companions of Salif.

Moffou is both the title of the album and the name of of the club that the singer opened in Bamako in 2002 to promote the West African music scene. In both cases, the choice of the name expresses his genuine desire to return to the roots of Mali.

Salif Keita

In April of 2004, Decca/Universal Music released Remixes from Moffou. The album expanded on the original recording of Moffou that took him on a tour around the world. He collaborated with some of the world’s finest producers and DJs, each bringing a unique contribution to the music, changing its tempo and atmosphere. A sound with a whole new dimension, the disc has traces of funk, house and drum-n-bass.Each song on Remixes is transformed – the songs were given a new face without distorting the delicate melodies that were originally written. The idea to remix the entire album was spawned from the feedback that was given from young music fans. They rushed out to buy “Yamore” (Keita’s duet with Cesaria Evora) and club kids went crazy for Marin Solveig’s remix of “Madan.” European FM radio stations also took notice of the remix which prompted Universal France to take a step further.

Patrick Votan, artistic director at Universal Jazz France explained, “Following the success of “Madan” we decided to ask electro artists who are close to the African scene such as Osunlade, Doctor L and Frederic Galliano to work on remixes of other tracks from the album. We also got major mainstream electro stars such as La Funk Mob (the defunct duo of Cassius Philippe Zdar and Boombass who got back together for the project), Charles Webster and Luciano on board the project in the hope that this would take the work of Salif Keita, a unique and original artist, to the ears of a new public.”

On M’Bemba (2006), the traditional instruments such as the ngoni lute played by Mama Sissoko, and the kora played by Toumani Diabate, evoke the memory of Salif Keita’s own ancestor, Sundiata Keita, the warrior king who founded the Manding Empire in the 13th century. Representing a genuine piece of family history, the new recording was the first time Salif’s foster-sisters joined him on record for the chorus of the title track. Also appearing on the album was dancehall/reggae great, Buju Banton, who lent his talents on the upbeat track “Ladji.”

The same talented group of musicians who performed on Moffou also joined Salif on M’Bemba, including Djeli Moussa Kouyate on guitar, Mino Cinellu on percussion, Salif’s early mentor, guitarist and arranger, Kante Manfila with Ousmane Kouyate also on guitar.

Keita aims to spread his message of hope through his music, through his actions, and through his words. “Happiness isn’t for tomorrow,” Keita said. “It’s not hypothetical; it starts here and now. . . . Nature has given us extraordinary things. . . . Let’s take advantage of the wonders of this continent at last – intelligently, in our own way, at our own rhythm, like responsible men proud of their inheritance. “Let’s build the country of our children, and stop taking pity on ourselves. Africa is also the joy of living, optimism, beauty, elegance, grace, poetry, softness, the sun and nature. Let’s be happy to its sons, and fight to build our happiness.”


Dans L’Authenticité Vol.1, with Kante Manfila ‎(Badmos, 1979)
Dans l’Authenticité Vol. 2, with Kante Manfila ‎(Badmos, 1979)
Tounkan (Celluloid, 1981)
Salif Keita & Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux ‎(Badmos International Records, 1981)
Mandjou (Celluloid, 1984)
Soro (Mango, 1987)
Salif Keita & Mory Kante (Syllart Records, 1988)
Ko-Yan (Mango, 1989)
Amen (Mango, 1991)
L’Enfant Lion, soundtrack ‎(Mango, 1993)
Folon…The Past (Mango, 1995)
Sosie (MS Verdenshjørnet, 1996)
Seydou Bathily ‎(Sonodisc, 1997)
Papa (Metro Blue, 1999)
Moffou (Universal Music Jazz France, 2002)
The Lost Album Inédits (Cantos, 2005)
M’Bemba (Universal Music Jazz France, 2005)
La Différence (Universal Music France, 2009)
Talé (Universal Music France, 2012)


Salif Keita – World Music Portrait (Shanachie, 2004)


Artist Profiles: Super Rail Band

Super Rail Band – Photo by Ellis Vener

The legendary band that has been an institution in Mali since the late 1960s, Super Rail Band, mixes traditional African instruments with electric guitars, led by the mesmerizing presence of singer and guitarist Djelimady Tounkara.

The Super Rail Band was born out of a Malian government subsidy in the 1950s for local groups to integrate indigenous folk traditions into their music, including Manding jeli songs and hunting songs, which the band mixed in with its Afro-Cuban dance rhythms, electric guitars and trap drums. For years, the band anchored a lively international scene at the dance bar operated by the Mali Rail Company at the railway station in Bamako, Mali’s capital.

The Super Rail Band served as an important launching pad for the careers of numerous West African musicians, including kora player and singer Mory Kante, and guitarist Kante Manfila. The Rail Band became legendary because it nurtured Mory Kante and Salif Keita. The two singers went on to solo fame. But even without its famous singers, Tounkara is one of the genre’s most charismatic performers.

Head of orchestra, saxophonist – Kabiné Kéïta
Percussionist – Bamba Dembélé
Arranger, guitar solo – Djéli Mady Tounkara
Vocals – Bamory Kouyaté, Modibo Diabaté, Abdoulaye Traoré
Drums – Maguett Diop
Tumba – Lassana Bagayogo
Guitar – Fanta Mady Kouyaté
Guitar – Foligni Kéïta
Saxophonist – Mamadou Ouédraogo


Sunjata (Bärenreiter-Musicaphon, 1970)
Melodias Rail Band du Mali (Kouma, 1976)
Concert “Rail Band” du Mali (Kouma, 1976)
Orchestre du Buffet Hôtel de la Gare de Bamako (, 1977)
Affair Social (Sacodis, 1979)
New Dimensions in Rail Culture (Globestyle, 1985)
Super Rail Band de Bamako/ Djougouya Magni (Indigo, 1994)
Mansa (Indigo, 1996)
Kongo Sigui (Indigo, 2003)


Artist Profiles: Tartit


The men and women of Ensemble Tartit are Tuaregs residing in the Timbuktu and the Goundam region of the Niger River basin in Northern Mali. Tartit brought the music from the Tuaregs to an international audience.

Founded in 1995 in a refugee camp, Tartit was invited to perform at the Festival of Women’s Voices in Belgium that year. The group consists of five women and four men, singing and playing traditional instruments such as the tinde (drum), imzad (violin), and tehardant (lute). They later added a guitar to their instrumentation, to strengthen the sound of the ensemble.

Tartit’s repertoire consists of both traditional pieces (some more than a century old, respecting the forms of both words and music) and more recent compositions (created by improvising and taking inspiration from contemporary events to pay homage to men and women who serve their community).

The music of the Tuaregs emphasizes the voice (as soloist or chorus), with the occasional addition of instruments: the imzad (violin), teharden (lute) and tinde (drum).

Certain pieces played by Tartit mingle the sound of the teharden and the tinde with the voice of the male or female soloist, with a singer’s commentaries, and with a female chorus. These are pieces which might be heard on festive occasions such as marriages, children’s ceremonies, various tributes, and also in honor of a woman just divorced. Tuareg society is one of the few throughout Africa who allow women to choose their own husbands, and to chose to divorce them also if the marriage is not successful!

Members of Tartit are well-versed on their instruments, and in the musical traditions of their culture. The Tuareg social structure has traditionally had a great influence on their music: only women of the noble or the vassal tribes were permitted to play the imzad, the small one stringed fiddle that is the symbol of Tuareg society. But now any female musician can teach the instrument to any woman who so desires.

The imzad and the tinde are both instruments that are made from every day, utilitarian objects: a gourd and a mortar respectively, and they can once again be used for their normal functions after they have been used as musical instruments. Both Fadimata Walet Oumar (commonly called Disco among her family and friends, due to her love of music) and W. Mohamedoun Fadimata have been playing the tinde since they were quite young. Fadimata learned it from a servant woman, who would put Fadimata on her knee and tap out the rhythms.

The Kel Antessar (confederation of Tuaregs to which several members of Tartit belong) were among the first Tuaregs to use the teharden lute. The teharden is only played by men. Issa Amanou is one member of the group who was first trained on the teharden by his uncle Khama ag Akouka, one of the greatest experts on the instrument. Issa sees himself both as musician and raconteur. His words are cast in the present tense, yet evoke a glorious past recalling heroes in order to encourage the listener’s honor and bravery.


Amazagh (Fonti Musicali, 1997)
Ichichila – Desert Blues From Malian Tuareg (Network Medien, 2000)
Abacabok (Crammed Discs, 2006)
Live from the Sahara, with Imrahan (Clermont Music, 2013)


Artist Profiles: Tinariwen


Tinariwen (originally Taghreft Tinariwen, or “edification of the lands”) became known for vocalizing the political plight of endangered nomads. Their music spoke to the Tuareg or Kel Tamashek, appealing for a political awakening of consciousness.

For a century, the tribes of the southern Sahara searched the barren landscape for every weapon available to maintain hope in the midst of ethnic cleansing and public executions. With the dawn of the 21st Century, the Kel Tamashek turned to the global circuit. Musicians are the modern warriors. And lyrics have changed to focus on suffering, love, and hope. A Tinariwen song claims, “If I could sing so that those in London could hear, then the whole world would hear my song.”

Although Tinariwen formed in 1982, they remained underground (Mali and Algeria banned the political lyrics) until the group moved to the Malian capital of Bamako in 1999. There, the ten members drew on a rebel rock sensibility, openly playing their passionate, trance-like Desert Blues. During the first eclipse (and first full moon) of the millennium, Tinariwen performed at The Festival in the Desert. Staged near the ancient ruins of Tamaradant, remote and distant from any visible life, the Festival was an effort to further goals of reconciliation, development, and international awareness.

Reporter Andy Morgan asserted that Tinariwen’s soulful music produced a magical effect on the crowd, causing “the young Tuaregs to stamp and dance with abandon in front of the stage. These men were heroes and mentors.” The ten band members are indeed the pride of the Tuareg people. Experiences in battle have created many legends. Kheddou is said to have received 17 bullet wounds after leading several raids, armed only with a guitar on his back and a Kalashnikov in his hands. Once, he was doused in gasoline, owing his life to a faulty lighter.

After witnessing his father’s murder at the hands of Malian soldiers, a drought forced Ibrahim to join a training camp in southern Libya, where Ghadaffi made promises to help the Tamashek cause. In between classes about revolution, Islamism, and guerrilla warfare, Ibrahim smoked cigarettes and played music with Hassan and Intayedan (who has since passed away). Upon hearing the music of Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Moroccan music for the first time, they discarded traditional instruments like the shepherd flute and tinde drum in favor of the electric guitar, bass, and drums. However, they continued the tradition of Assak, or the traditional male skills of poetic composition, and choral call-and-response. Soon they became musical revolutionaries, creating a new style of music called Tishoumaren, or simply guitar.

The songs of Tinariwen are petitions for political and cultural self-determination. They have become a point of identity for Tuareg youth. In a land void of laptops and TVs, cheap cassette recordings spread hope and resolve. Sick of the suffering caused by armed rebellion, the music of bands like Tinariwen is the new weapon of choice.


Ténéré ‎(EMI, 1993)
The Radio Tisdas Sessions (Wayward Records/World Village, 2001)
Amassakoul (/World Village, 2003)
Aman Iman: Water Is Life (Independiente, 2006)
Imidiwan: Companions (World Village, 2009)
Tassili (V2, 2011)
Live At Bouffes Du Nord ‎(2011)
Emmaar (Anti-/Wedge, 2013)
Live In Paris (Anti-/Wedge, 2015)
Elwan (Epitaph, 2017)


Artist Profiles: Vieux Farka Toure

Vieux Farka Toure – Photo by Thomas Arnbo

Growing up, Vieux played calabash (a unique-sounding dried gourd drum used in Mali) and other percussion, but his father didn’t want Vieux to face the same struggles he had as a musician, and discouraged him from following the same path. The Toure family comes from a noble lineage, in a land where musicians usually come from a musical caste.

Ali went against his own family’s societal role to become a musician and suffered as a result; first struggling to make a living at home in Mali, and then getting cheated by a French producer early in his career. The BBC reported that when he won his first Grammy award, Ali chose not to travel to the United States to collect his prize, saying: “I don’t know what a Grammy means but if someone has something for me, they can come and give it to me here in Niafunke, where I was singing when nobody knew me.”

Ali wanted his son to become a soldier. But Vieux secretly took up the guitar behind closed doors. He enrolled in the Arts Institute in Bamako, the same institution where Habib Koite and many other Malian musicians of note studied. When Ali realized Vieux was not going to give up on playing guitar, he enlisted his good friend Toumani Diabate as Vieux’s advisor.

When young North American producer Eric Herman of Modiba Productions expressed interest in recording Vieux he had to seek permission from Diabate, the senior Toure, and other community elders. Once Diabate and Toure heard Vieux’s initial recordings, they realized they had underestimated the younger Toure’s virtuosity. “Toumani looked shocked,” recalls Herman. “Vieux turned to me and said “See, nobody knows I can play music like this.” I knew” and it didn’t seem to be a secret that he is a really dynamic guitarist. But among the elders who he needed to be respectful of, he was humble and hiding it.”

Though my father initially resisted my playing music,” explained Vieux, “once he saw that it was truly my ambition and my calling, he was at my side; and he stayed there until the end.”


Vieux Farka Touré ‎(World Village, 2006)
Vieux Farka Touré Remixed: UFOs Over Bamako (Modiba, 2007)
Fondo ‎(Six Degrees Records, 2009)
Live (Six Degrees Records, 2010)
The Secret ‎(Six Degrees Records, 2011)
Mon Pays (Six Degrees Records, 2013)
Touristes ‎(Six Degrees Records, 2015)
Samba (Six Degrees Records, 2017)


Artist Profiles: Yacouba Sissoko

Yacouba Sissoko

Yacouba Sissoko is a master kora player from the jeli tradition. He was born in Kita, Mali. His grandfather, Samakoun Tounkara, began teaching Yacouba when he was 12 years old. They raised Yacouba and educated him in his jeli heritage and in many lessons about life. Yacouba attended the Institut National des Arts du Mali in Bamako. After his graduation, he played with artists like Taye and Oumou Sacko, Haja Soumano, Djallou Demba, Ami Koita, Fantani Koure, Kandia Kouyate and l’Ensemble Instrumental du Mali.

In 1993, Souleymane Koli, the leader of the Ensemble Koteba of Abidjan recruited him. Yacouba spend the next 5 years performing all over the world with this 45-piece band. He is in demand as one of the best kora players in the world, playing with Jazz, Latin and R &B bands as well as traditional African ceremonies. As leader of his own band, Siya, and member of the group Super Mande, Yacouba continues to record with many musicians, including the groups Source, Tamalalou and Fula Flute.


KoraNYC, with Atropolis (Dutty Artz, 2015)


Artist Profiles: Yaya Diallo

Yaya Diallo

Yaya Diallo is a traditional musician from Mali, West Africa. He is also a music and dance instructor, author, and workshop leader.

His 1980 album Nagapè is a classic instrumental album of African drumming, bala and flute music. Following graduation from the University of Montreal and a brief career as a chemist, Yaya Diallo was co-founder of the music and dance groups Djembe-Kan and Cl?ba and a member of the African Troubadours with the World Music Institute as well as a faculty member of the Creative Music Studio and the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies of New York. Yaya Diallo is active with his band Kanza and continues to teach and perform internationally. Onzou Record reissued Nagapè in 2002. This marked a fresh collaboration between Onzou Records and Yaya Diallo to produce more CDs and create traditional African healing centers.

In addition to recording several albums, Yaya Diallo also published a journal, At the Threshold of the African Soul: The Fulani-Minianka Way (1985, reprint 2001) and a book, The Healing Drum: African Wisdom Teachings (1998).


Nagapè (1980), reissued by Onzou Records in 2003
The Healing Drum: African Ceremonial and Ritual Music (Destiny Recordings, 1994) –
Dounoukan (Yaya Diallo, 1995)
Dombaa Fole: Medicine Music of Mali (Relaxation Company, 1998)
Live at Club Soda (Onzou Records, 2003)


Artist Profiles: Oumou Sangare

Oumou Sangare – Photo by Ed Alcock

Oumou Sangare was born in Bamako in 1968, to parents who had immigrated to Mali’s capital city from the region south of the Niger river known as Wassulu. Her mother, Aminata Daikhite, was also a vocalist, who, like most women of her generation, had to share her husband with two other wives. This influential experience of polygamy and its potential for causing pain and suffering made a deep impression on the young girl.

Oumou’s mother encouraged her to develop her talents as a singer, whispering to her terrified daughter just before she took the stage of Bamako’s Stade des Omnisports for her first public appearance at the tender age of six, “Sing like you’re at home in the kitchen”. After a period as a member of The National Ensemble of Mali, the training ground for many of the country’s top musicians, Oumou was asked by Super Djata Band veteran Bamba Dambele to accompany his traditional percussion troupe Djoliba in 1986 on a tour of Europe. Following this brief introduction to the musician’s life, Oumou returned home with the determination to form her own group and form her own sound based on the styles and traditions of her ancestral homeland, Wassulu.

For reasons which even Oumou herself is hard pressed to explain, the Wassulu region, has produced a remarkable number of great women singers since Mali gained its independence in the early 60’s. She regularly name checks pioneering figures like Coumba Sidibe, Sali Sidibe and Flan Saran as important influences, who together with many others forged a distinct style of music based on local dances and rhythms like the didai, the bari, the sigui and above all the sogonihun, a traditional masked dance performed mainly by young girls at harvest time. This unique style which came to be known as ‘wassulu’, combines the jembe drum and karyaing (“scraper”), propelled rhythms of the regional traditional dances with the jittery yet funky sound of the kamale ngoni (literally “young man’s harp”), an instrument which has played a key role in the development of wassulu. Adapted by the youth of Yanfolila in the heart of Wassulu from the donsongoni, an ancient harp used in rituals by the wassouloU forest hunters, the kamalengoni in many ways symbolizes youth.

Shortly after her return from Europe, Oumou started working with acclaimed arranger Amadou Ba Guindo. Together with a fine group of musicians including Boubacar Diallo on guitar and Aliou Traore on violin, Oumou and Amadou Ba set about constructing a tight and highly individual sound, aiming for something rooted in tradition and yet unique and modern at the same time. Oumou replaced the traditional horse-hair fiddle or soku with a modem violin which has not been used by in a wassulu lineup before and brought in the calabash or fie as a percussion instrument. After two years of hard work and experimentation, the group was offered a recording session, Oumou and company traveled to Abidjan in The Ivory Coast and in seven days at the legendary JBZ studios they recorded Moussolou, a collection of six original Oumou compositions.

Moussolou (Women) is a classic of modem African pop. In its own way, it represented something of a revolution in the way African music is recorded and produced. With their crystal clear and beautifully sparse sound based on traditional and mainly acoustic instruments, Oumou and Amadou Ba had concocted a viable alternative to what had previously been perceived as the only options: tacky syth’n’drum machine driven ‘modernity’ or unlistenable low-fi DIY trad ‘obscurity’. Ournou’s approach to her music also echoed the deeper struggle of her peer group for a cultural identity in which tradition is not thrown in the bin, but modernized with its essential character and strength intact. Oumou herself stresses the fact that although she speaks out against the abuses of traditional social customs such a polygamy, she herself is not antitradition. “Just look at the clothes I wear,” she says “aren’t they traditional!”

While the incredible success of Moussolou put Oumou firmly en the West African map, it was only after a fortuitous introduction by the legendary Malian guitarist Ali Farka Toure in 1991 that UK label World Circuit picked up the rights for the album outside Africa and began to develop Oumou’s international career. “Moussolou” was given a universally positive reception on its worldwide release and Oumou, pen and inspiration never at rest, set about working on songs for her second album “Ko Sira” (“Marriage Today”) recorded in Berlin and released on World Circuit in 1993. “Ko Sira” includes “Saa Magni”, a moving tribute to the memory of Amadou Ba who died in a car crash. “Death struck down Amadou Ba Guindo,” she sings, “death spares no creature, nothing can stop it, not even fame.”

With Ko Sira, Oumou notched up her second best-selling album and consolidated her fame. Back home politicians rushed to associate themselves with her perceptive views on contemporary morality but Oumou remains defiantly non-aligned. She received numerous awards in Mali and Ko Sira was voted European World Music album of the Year (1993).

Despite the arrival of her first child she set out on grueling tour schedules in Africa and Europe and in 1994 she paid her second visit to the USA as part of the Africa Pete package tour, performing to delighted audiences a t Summer Stage in New York’s Central Park. For her third album Worotan (Ten Kola Nuts..-i.e….the traditional bride-price in Mali) released in 1996, Oumou worked with Fee Wee Ellis, James Brown’s erstwhile hornman and stalwart of the “Horny Horns”, who made an enthusiastic yet respectfully controlled contribution to the Sangare sound. Nitin Sawhney, the British Asian guitar wizard also made an important contribution to the album, especially on the final song, “Djorolen”, one of Ournou’s most moving compositions to date.

Perhaps the core reason for Wassulu’s national and later international popularity was that it offered people, especially young people, a welcome alternative to the ancient and predominant Malian tradition of the jalis, or praise singers. Whereas the jalis sing the praises of important men and the glory of their ancestors, Wassulu singers tackle everyday concerns in their songs. Whereas the jalis direct their praise at a particular individual (usually a pillar of society and community) hoping for a handsome reward, Wassulu singers sing for everyone with no particular financial kick-back in mind.

In October 2003 Oumou Sangare, was appointed Ambassadress of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)* at a ceremony in Rome. Her appointment as Ambassadress forms part of the FAO’s ‘struggle against famine.’ This appointment means a great deal to Oumou Sangare who has throughout her career been committed to addressing the inequalities faced by millions of Africans and of Women in particular. Thanks to her international fame and influence on her public, Oumou was been given the responsibility of making the public aware of the vast problems that Africa faces through her concerts and press conferences.

In 2017, Oumou released Mogoya, her first album of new material in eight years. The album featured powerful messages of empowerment and perseverance for African women, and addressing serious social issues such as depression and suicide. While retaining signature elements of her traditional Wassulu sound, this album took a different direction. Omou teamed up with an all-new French production team, A.L.B.E.R.T. (Vincent Taurelle, Ludovic Bruni, and Vincent Taeger) known for their work with Beck, Air, and Franz Ferdinand.

[Partially adapted from an original text by Andy Morgan]


Moussolou (World Circuit Records, 1991)
Bi Furu (1993)
Ko Sira (World Circuit Records, 1993)
Denw Mali (K7 SA, 1996)
Worotan (World Circuit Records, 1996)
Laban ‎(2001)
Non Stop (2003)
Seya (World Circuit Records, 2009)
Mogoya (No Format, 2017)