Album of the Week // 24–28 August

Oumou Sangaré — Acoustic [Nø Førmat]

“It’s this fighting spirit, and the image of an undefeated rebel that you find here on this exquisite album.”

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Cover art painted by Congolese artist JP Mika

Malian superstar Oumou Sangaré’s Acoustic, is a albumn re-imagining her critically-acclaimed 2017 release Mogoya. But this time, it’s totally unplugged, recorded in live sessions captured over two days. This is the final chapter in a trio of related projects (2018’s Mogoya Remixed edition saw Sangaré’s compositions retooled by high-profile fans including Sampha, Spoek Mathambo and St Germain), Acoustic is out on Nø Førmat, with physical formats available from 28th August. Oumou trailed the announcement of Acoustic with this trailer, available to view here.

Speaking about the impetus for creating Acoustic, Nø Førmat founder Laurent Bizot recalls, “I suggested to Oumou that she record this album after a show in London to celebrate 15 years of Nø Førmat. At that concert, for the first time ever, she had agreed to try out this acoustic approach, which is all about letting go. The space it created for her voice was really wonderful.” The album was recorded at the Midi Live studio in Villetaneuse, with no amplification, no retakes or overdubs, no headphones. Acoustic features a band comprised of backing singers Emma Lamadji and Kandy Guira, the guitarist and musical director Guimba Kouyaté and kamele ngoni virtuoso Brahima ‘Benogo’ Diakité, alongside A.l.b.e.r.t.’s Vincent Taurelle, here providing toy organ and celeste.

The eleven songs that Oumou revisits in this pared-down fashion across Acoustic consolidate her position as one of Mali’s leading forward-thinkers and activists, first established with her 1989 debut Moussolou. This cassette release sold over 250,000 copies and did much for the feminist cause in West Africa. It’s her capacity to confront suffering whilst preserving her connection to Malian values that Sangaré celebrates — a balance reflected in two additional non-Mogoya tracks added to Acoustic at Oumou’s own request. These are ‘Saa Magni’, which laments the passing of Amadou Ba Guindo (member of the Orchestre National Badema) and ‘Diaraby Nene’ (lifted from Moussolou) in which Sangaré’s lyrics dared to detail her first intimate encounters. These tracks confronted taboos head-on and allowed Sangaré, who is hugely popular amongst West African youth, to press her advantage by denouncing (as she continues to do) female circumcision, forced marriages and polygamy, systems that were responsible for the collapse of her own family and continue to reinforce patriarchal structures worldwide.

The release of Mogoya in 2017 signalled the long-awaited return of Oumou Sangaré after 8 years, during which she had been managing her numerous businesses (including some in agriculture and pisciculture). With that album, recorded between Stockholm and Paris with co-production from A.l.b.e.r.t. (Air, Beck), the woman who’d swapped selling water on the streets of Bamako for global stardom reconnected with her audience. Treading a fine line between traditional Wassoulou music and a curiosity for new global styles, Malian instruments were joined by electric guitar, bass and synths, with Tony Allen on drum kit.

Propelling Oumou into pop culture, she was painted by Congolese artist JP Mika for the front cover, and more recently sampled by Beyoncé (who used ‘Diaraby Nene’ without permission on ‘MOOD 4 EVA’, from The Lion King: The Gift). Never before had Sangaré appeared so far removed from her home country — it’s a balance that Acoustic intends to redress, with Oumou continuing to explore her themes with the same freedom, the same audacity of her debut some 30 years ago. It’s this fighting spirit, and the image of an undefeated rebel that you find here on this exquisite album.

Tune in to Morning Mari* all next week to hear tracks from the album!

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