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Oumou Sangaré

Oumou Sangaré , (born Feb. 25, 1968, Bamako, Mali), Malian singer and songwriter known for championing women’s rights through wassoulou, a style of popular music derived from vocal and instrumental traditions of rural southern Mali.

The earliest influence on Sangaré’s musical development was her mother, a migrant to Bamako from Mali’s Wassoulou region, where women had long figured prominently in traditional-music performance. As a skilled singer, Sangaré’s mother was often hired to perform at wedding and baptism celebrations in the city. Sangaré frequently accompanied her mother to these events, and it was not long before she began to sing at them herself. By the time she was in her early teens, Sangaré was already a locally recognized artist.

At age 16 Sangaré joined the band Djoliba Percussions and briefly toured Europe with the group as its lead vocalist. Following the tour she set about writing music for her first album. She worked within the framework of wassoulou music, the popular style that had been created and cultivated by the Wassoulou migrant community in Bamako. Central to the wassoulou sound were the strains of the kamele ngoni, a six-string harp ultimately associated with rural Wassoulou tradition. Aside from the harp, Sangaré used a violin to replace—or suggest—the traditional Wassoulou bowed lute, a scraper to add rhythmic drive, and the electric guitar and bass to provide melodic and harmonic support. Sangaré also recruited a chorus of female singers to articulate her powerful solo singing in a call-and-response fashion typical of many music traditions of western Africa.

In 1990 Sangaré finally released her debut recording, Moussoulou (“Women”), and it received an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response. Audiences were enchanted not only with her agile vocals but also with her lyrics, which critically addressed taboo topics such as polygamy, arranged marriage, and the hardship of women in western African society. When the album sold more than 250,000 copies locally, it was quickly picked up for

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