Saturday, March 06, 2010

Oumou Sangaré

In the 1980s, in a country where the musical norm was ancient praise songs to rich and powerful members of the establishment, Sangaré began to forge her own distinctive style rooted in the Wassoulou music of southern Mali, working with influential arranger Amadou Ba Guindo. They replaced traditional instruments with the kamale ngoni – known as the young man's harp – the equivalent of the rock guitar for Malian youth. The resulting album, Moussoulou, was an immediate sensation; it sold over 200,000 copies in West Africa, making Sangaré a star and the disc an African pop classic.

The most remarkable part of the musical story is that Sangaré has as many male fans as women, and yet she highlights the difficulties facing women in a male-dominated society. She sings about taboo subjects such as polygamy, under-age forced marriage and women's role in society.

"I wouldn't call it feminist," she says. "I'm an artist first and foremost. I sing about injustice in any shape or form. Feminism is a very political word whereas what I am trying to do is art. But I'll speak out on any subject. I've always been interested in conveying a message but without necessarily beating people over the head with it. I have a weapon that does not shoot people down. Music is not about fighting. I come from a tradition where the role of the artist is about educating people."
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