A Musical Crusader Gives Some Sisterly Wisdom
Malian singer Oumou Sangare specializes in songs about love, respect, and marriage. But the dynamo who possesses what is possibly the most agile voice in all of Africa doesn't have too many "happily ever after" tales. Sangare is a crusader, a champion of women's rights. Her songs caution women to not believe the hype about marriage, and voice the frustrations of those who are sold by their families into forced marriages or polygamous relationships.
This is a radical stand for a woman in the male-dominated Islamic culture of Mali, and it has brought Sangare, who is from the music-rich southern province of Wassoulou, much notoriety. Men have been known to protest outside her concerts, and she's been both hailed and scorned by politicians. None of this has deterred her. Sangare's second album, Ko sira, which means "Marriage Today," perfectly captures her warriorlike determination. As she exhorts her sisters to take control of their lives, Sangare sings with such clarity it is impossible to sense that anything radical or subversive (like, say, coping advice for a new bride) is going on. Her lines follow darting, birdlike flight paths, and after she's sung solo for a while, her background singers slide in for extended call-and-response exchanges. These showcase Sangare's flowing, endlessly surprising improvisations.
The musical inspiration behind Ko sira is undeniable— even those who don't agree with Sangare's message concede that her singing, and the economical mix of traditional and modern instruments that surrounds it, is unique. She's the rare force who, having mastered the gentle art of persuasion, shifts gears and shouts with a conviction that rattles centuries-old assumptions. And that, all by itself, is a kind of miracle.