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TERRY GROSS, host:

Oumou Sangare is a singer from Mali who's gone from an outsider, who sang about taboo subjects like polygamy and forced marriage, to a major national celebrity.

Milo Miles has a review of her new album.

MILO MILES: "Seya" is Oumou Sangare's first album in six years and it's a landmark. It shows she's not just the finest female singer in Mali, but the African queen of soul. "Seya" is also the culmination of a musical evolution that was under way when Sangare first recorded in 1989. Like Amadou and Mariam's "Welcome to Mali," also released this year, "Seya" represents a fully mature, new type of African popular music. It is neither folkloric nor fusion. It neither caters to western sounds nor ignores them.

It could only be created within today's global culture. Yet every moment of "Seya" reflects the joyful seriousness and serious joy of Oumou Sangare's personality. That's why she's the queen.

(Soundbite of song, "Kounadya")

Ms. OUMOU SANGARE (Singer): (Singing in Foreign Language)

MILES: As she always has, Sangare offers lyrics well worth reading. She addresses native social tensions either through frank admonition — girls shouldn't be sold into marriage before they have breasts, or sly animal fables — dogs shouldn't get mad at turtles because they can't bite the shell. No matter what mode she chooses, Sangare sounds a bit more polished, a bit more precise and at ease than ever before. The sessions feature guest players including African stars like drummer Tony Allen and guitarist Djelimady Tounkara, as well as American horn veterans Fred Wesley and Pee Wee Ellis. But nobody takes over a tune, the queen commands seamless integration.

(Soundbite of song, "Wele Wele Wintou")

Ms. SANGARE: (Singing in Foreign Language)

MILES: Like many African performers who establish an international career, Sangare has become almost a one-woman industry at home. She's involved in charities, car imports, running a hotel and being a full-time fashion plate. The title song is all about spreading fun around, being sexy and selecting fabric and clothing designers.

(Soundbite of song, "Seya")

Ms. SANGARE: (Singing in Foreign Language)

MILES: Oumou Sangare has earned the right to celebrate her stardom. Besides, she sounds humble in the face of good fortune and evokes community far more than ego. But where do you go from the top? What comes after the big time? Sangare is an unusually careful and deliberate creator. "Seya" presents masterful music and a superb summation of her achievements. But Sangare's greatest challenge will be to find the next step.

GROSS: Milo Miles reviewed "Seya" by Oumou Sangare. She begins a U.S. and Canadian tour July 2nd in Chicago.

I'm Terry Gross.

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