Oumou Sangaré – Timbuktu
World Circuit Records – 29 April 2022
When I reviewed Oumou Sangaré’s 2020 album Acoustic, I remarked on how intense and direct her singing was, aided by the stripped-back approach that the album’s title indicated. Was this intensity, then, just a product of the mix, the subjugation of the instruments by the voice? Well, not really. Listen to her latest album, Timbuktu, and you will quickly realise what a force Oumou’s voice is and what power there is behind it.
From the explosive start of Wassulu Don, you know that this album is something different, something special. This may have something to do with the COVID pandemic and lockdown. A visit to the US was not so much curtailed as enforced, and Oumou liked it so much she bought herself a house and settled down to some very fruitful solitary confinement, writing ten of the eleven songs that appear on Timbuktu.
The album opener’s raw guitar and West African rhythms are instantly compelling and contrast nicely against the gentler Sira, on which the guitar is more refined. The song is a warning to the children of the wealthy not to fall into delinquency and run the risk of not making the best of their lives.
The pace is turned down still further for Degui N’Kenena, a song of separation, loss and loneliness, a flute floating delicately in the background and the languid-paced title track, followed by Sarama that pops out, bright and infectious, belying its subject of betrayal.
The range in style across the album ranges from heavy Mali blues to very subtle, lyrical pieces. This variety of texture and feel for one album is something rarely heard. It’s also clear that Oumou devoted considerable time and energy to write them. The roots of her music lie in the Wassoulou region, an area of West Africa that straddles Mali, Guinea and the Ivory Coast. The region’s music is renowned for its female-orientated themes, including childbearing and fertility, mainly performed by women. Oumou has built on this not only through her music but also through her business acumen and her fight to improve the rights of women across Africa. It will be no surprise to learn that Wassoulou Don, which celebrates Oumou’s home region and the improvements being made in areas like health and education, was released as a single on International Women’s Day.
This album is a tapestry of sound, a warp of the traditional Wassoulou rhythms and a weft of the roots of the blues from the Dobro to the slide guitar played by Pascal Danaë. However these passionate and impressionistic pieces affect you, there is no denying that the core of their strength lies in Oumou Sangaré’s powerful voice, both as a writer and singer and as a proponent of women’s rights. This will be a regular on my player for a long time.
Timbuktu is released on 29th April via World Circuit. Pre-Order here:
Oumou plays at Grace Jones’ Meltdown Festival at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall on 15th June.
May 13 – Hannover, DE – StaatsoperMay 15 – Paris, FR – La CigaleJune 11 – Gotenborg, SE – Festival Clandestino (at Pustervik)June 14 – Brussels, BE – Ancienne BelgiqueJune 15 – London, UK – Queen Elizabeth Hall (Meltdown Festival)June 18 – Prague, CZ – Respect FestivalJune 19 – Liverpool, UK – Africa OyeJuly 6 – Amsterdam, NL – ConcertgebowJuly 7 – Arles, FR – Les Suds Festival Sept 23 – Florence, IT – Festival Au Désert (Teatro Puccini)Sept 24 – Naples, IT – Festival EthnosNov 10 – Bordeaux, FR – Rocher du PalmerNov 22 – Orléans, FR – Scene National