'the sequencing of the material has obviously been very carefully thought through,...
Jon Lusk 2003
For anyone following developments in West African music during the 1990s, Oumou Sangare was impossible to overlook. Her wonderful debut album Moussolou kicked off the decade in style and was a huge hit at home and abroad.
Sangare's vibrant electro-acoustics take on the infectiously funky pentatonic Wassoulou sounds of Southern Maliand this wonderful mix soon resulted in a deal with the infamous World Circuit label. This deal effectively introduced her to a spellbound international audience who soon saw her as a new world music diva. Her live performances emanated style and grace. She had the vocal power and tone of a griotte, but instead of singing obsequious praise songs to wealthy patrons, her lyrics often challenged long held traditions, in particular championing women's rights.
Ko Sira (1993) and Worotan (1996) amply sustained her reputation, although they also made it clear that she wasn't in any hurry to jettison her beloved Wassoulou roots in order to 'cross over'.
However, the promise of these years wasn't really fulfilled. Extensive touring within Africa, (where her biggest audience has always been) and a decision to devote more time to her family meant that the impetus of her career dissipated somewhat. She did record a follow-up album called Laban, which was released in Mali in 2001, though not on World Circuit. This compilation is their attempt to put her back in the spotlight.
Oumou combines 8 tracks released on CD for the first time, with twelve taken from those first three albums, and remastered. Of the 'new' tracks, the hypnotic chant of "Mogo Te Diya Bee Ye" is the only out-take; apparently, when la Sangare goes into the studio she generally only brings what songs she needs. There's also a radical remix of the ballad "Djorolen", successfully reinvented as eerie loping Wassoulou trip-hop. The remaining six are songs from Laban which have been given the World Circuit treatment by label founder and producer Nick Gold.
He has reshaped Boncana Maiga's production by removing some synth and string parts, replacing some programmed percussion with live musicians and adding the flute of 'Magic Malik' in a couple of places. Comparing these with the originals, I have to say Gold's changes are improvements.
Lucy Durán's sleevenotes shed new light on the stories behind each song, and the sequencing of the material has obviously been very carefully thought through, with the desired effect of making a mix of new and older work seem fresh, contemporary and vital. Not that this kind of music loses its power with age.
What remains to be seen is whether people who've already got all of Sangare's early albums will want to buy large bits of them all over again in order to hear her latest material.