Copyright ©2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.


Singer Oumou Sangare comes from Mali. While her new CD "Seya" borrows sounds from outside Mali, the songs themselves focus on issues that intimately affect her homeland.

Our critic Robert Christgau loves what she has to say and loves how she says it even more.

ROBERT CHRISTGAU: With the death of Miriam Makeba, Mali's Oumou Sangare stands unchallenged as Africa's most important female singer. Sangare was raised in poverty by a mother who struggled to make a living as a wedding singer after her husband abandoned her for a second wife. She was singing for money at five and supporting her family at 13. No major African musician has been more outspoken about women's issues. This song, from her new album "Seya," criticizes child marriage. The title is "Wele Wele Wintou."

(Soundbite of song, "Wele Wele Wintou")

Ms. OUMOU SANGARE (Musician): (Singing foreign language)

CHRISTGAU: The phrase wele wele wintou, which repeats many times during this frenetic, five-minute track, means something like ring the bells. In between wele weles, Sangare warns fathers that girls shouldn't marry before they have breasts, which is when their life as women begins. Sangare is unquestionably an inspiration for Malian women, but in America, her political muscle is conveyed mostly through music. Notice the flute and drums on the lead track, "Sounsoumba."

(Soundbite of song, "Sounsoumba")

Ms. SANGARE: (Singing foreign language)

CHRISTGAU: I'm glad "Sounsoumba" advocates, and I quote, "respect for women and solidarity in marriage." But I don't need to know exactly what Sangare is saying because I'm so impressed by what she's saying it over: the turbo power of Paris-based, Guadeloupe-raised, Ivory Coast-born flutist Malik Mezzadri and trap drums by Will Calhoun of the American rock band Living Colour.

Sangare's will to marshal such forces is new. When she came up in the '90s, she was known for just slightly modernizing the rural music of the Malian south. The new CD is far more varied and ambitious, utilizing well over 50 backup players. "Donso" is an allegorical song about hunting, but notice the violin intro.

(Soundbite of song, "Donso")

Ms. SANGARE: (Singing foreign language)

CHRISTGAU: The hypnotic rhythm is traditional, but that violin part conjures the Cairo string sound that dominated North African pop for a half a century.

Clearly a woman of power, Oumou Sangare is claiming that sound, and this proud internationalism only makes her seem stronger. But ultimately, her strength proceeds from her commitment to Mali. Nowhere here is she more robust than on the finale.

"Koroko" means entertainer, and on the song of that title, some dozen Malian men and women help Oumou Sangare celebrate all the korokos who vitalized her impoverished nation before her.

(Soundbite of song, "Koroko")

Ms. SANGARE: (Singing foreign language)

BLOCK: The new album from Oumou Sangare is called "Seya." Our critic Robert Christgau writes the Consumer Guide to CDs at

(Soundbite of song, "Koroko")

Ms. SANGARE: (Singing foreign language)

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.