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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

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 msn.com.

(Soundbite of song, "Koroko")

Ms. SANGARE: (Singing foreign language)

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