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Oumou Sangare Seya Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

It's been too long since any album proper from the ‘songbird of Wassoulou’.

Jon Lusk 2009

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.

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