Global superstar and Grammy Award-winner Oumou Sangaré catapults Westchester to West Africa! Renowned worldwide for her vibrant and powerful music, the Malian “songbird of Wassoulou” infuses her music with traditional African percussion, distinctive vocals, and progressive social criticism, creating a unique sound that has propelled her onto the international stage. Her return to Caramoor after 12 years will feature music that spans traditional Wassoulou music to contemporary sounds coming out of Africa, as well as songs from her recent critically acclaimed album, Timbuktu.
“Percussive, danceable, and haunting, the singer’s visionary mix is the primary reason that her voice has come to carry as much respect as Aretha Franklin’s.” — The New Yorker
Garden Listening / For those who prefer a more casual concert environment, Garden Listening tickets are $20, and are free for Members and children under 18 years old. Listen to the concert broadcast onto Friends Field (audio only) while enjoying a picnic, admiring a starry sky, or relaxing with the family. We recommend you bring your own seating for Garden Listening.
Summer Season Shuttle / Take the FREE shuttle from Metro North’s Katonah train station to and from Caramoor! The shuttle runs before and after every summer afternoon and evening concert. No need to RSVP to get on the shuttle, it will be there when you arrive (in the parking lot side of the station). And if it’s not there, that means that it just left and will be back in 5-10 minutes!
Oumou Sangaré is widely considered to be Africa’s most dynamic female voice. Her music is ebullient and thrilling, with powerful and groundbreaking messages about women’s rights, tradition, and poverty.
Sangaré was born in Bamako, Mali, in 1969. When she was two years old, her father took a second wife and emigrated to Côte d’Ivoire leaving Oumou’s mother, pregnant at the time, with three small children. Her mother was a singer at wedding and baptism celebrations. Oumou joined her, fired by her passion for the music and her desire to help her mother out by earning a little extra cash. By the age of 13, Oumou had become the family breadwinner.
Oumou’s mother came from Wassoulou, the remote forest region in the south of Mali with a rich musical culture with a pentatonic flavor. The Wassoulou hunters’ music, played on the donsongoni, is believed to have magic powers. It was updated into the kamelengoni (youth’s harp) and Oumou’s vision was to bring the power and charm of this music into her own songs. In Bamako, with the help of arranger Ahmadou Ba Guindo, leader of the legendary National Badema dance band, she played with musicians including kamelengoni player ‘Benego’ Brehima Diakite who has remained Oumou’s main musical collaborator to this day.
In 1989, aged 21, she recorded her first album Moussoulou (Women) with arrangements by Ahmadou Ba Guindo, and it took West Africa by storm. The messages were powerful — encouraging women to be themselves and warning against the wrongs of polygamy and forced marriage. The hit song ‘”Diaraby Nene’” (“The Thrill of Love”) was about the taboo subject of women enjoying passion. It was also remarkable for being a slightly modernized version of the traditional rural music of the enigmatic Wassoulou hunters, delivered with an urban funk-driven pulse.
The Moussoulou cassette was given to World Circuit’s Nick Gold by Ali Farka Touré, and Gold witnessed its success during a trip to Bamako in 1991. “You couldn’t escape that music. And you didn’t want to. It was everywhere. I spent that week in Bamako hearing Oumou wherever I went.”
World Circuit released Moussoulou internationally in 1991 and since then have released four albums from Sangaré. On Ko Sira (Modern Marriage), 1993, “Saa Magni” pays tribute to Ahmadou Ba Guindo, arranger and co-producer of Moussoulou, who died in a car accident in 1991. On Worotan (10 Kola Nuts, the price given by a groom’s parents in exchange for a bride), 1996, Oumou continued to sing about the issues close to her heart. After becoming a mother herself, she also focused on children in difficult circumstances.
Sangaré fights fiercely against female circumcision (FGM), which is still prevalent in Mali. “I think the country has made progress regarding female circumcision [although there’s still no law in place]. And I opened the way, to a certain extent. The women of Mali and other African countries still continue the fight.”
In 2003 World Circuit released Oumou, a 2CD retrospective of her career to date. The album features 12 tracks from her first three World Circuit albums, plus eight tracks previously unreleased on CD.
Of Seya (Joy), 2009, she says, “When I sing it’s joyful but amongst that joy I always take the opportunity to slip in messages that educate my nation.” She encourages family unity, sings against forced marriage, and praises Mali’s textile makers. The song “Dons”’ is both a tribute to Alatta Brouleye, the Wassoulou musician who in the 1960s created the kamelengoni out of the donsongoni hunters’ harp (which ‘Benego’ Brehima Diakite plays on the track) and to her father, Bari Sangaré. with whom she was reconciled before his death.
After an eight-year break from recording, Oumou returned with a more modernized sound on Mogoya (on the No Format label) in 2017. This was followed by extensive touring around the world. Acoustic, a stripped-down version of Mogoya, was released in 2020, with no amplification, retakes or overdubs. It adds two important songs from her earlier career – “Saa Magni,” her tribute to Amadou Ba Guindo, and “Diaraby Nene,” her first big hit.
Sangare’s most recent album, Timbuktu, the first release on her own Oumsang label, was created during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown and released in 2022. The album weaves intimate sonic connections between traditional instruments from West Africa and those linked to the history of the blues, most notably the kamele n’goni and its distant heirs, the Dobro and slide guitar, played here by Pascal Danaë, who co-produced the album with Nicolas Quéré. From that particular period of lockdown, when time itself was put on hold, so to speak, and when both Sangaré the artist and Sangaré the businesswoman suddenly experienced a hitherto unknown state of isolation, far from the tumult and incessant solicitations of normal life, she pulled out the best.
“Since 1990, I’ve never had a chance to cut myself off from the world and devote myself exclusively to music,” she says. “If you look at it that way, lockdown was an opportunity for me, because it allowed me to keep my focus on the work of composition. I think you feel it in music, but also in the lyrics which are fruit of all those moments when I was able to withdraw into myself and meditate.”
It’s true. Never have Sangaré’s lyrics achieved such a poetic quality, such depth. Never have we seen her so inspired to deliver up her thoughts on the indecipherable mysteries of existence, the perilous situation that her country is going through right now or the general condition of the African womanhood, all proof that despite becoming so powerful, she hasn’t renounced the belief and commitment of her youth.
Although the title of the album, Timbuktu, alludes to the political situation in Mali, a country facing total disintegration and looking deep into its own history (powerfully symbolised by that legendary trading town in the northern desert) for reasons to be hopeful, many of its songs are based on Sangaré’s own unique experience. When, in Sira’ (literally the baobab in Bambara), she sings about the offspring of well-heeled and erudite families who, despite all their advantages, lapse into delinquency and throw away a promising future, it’s almost unconsciously to underline the contrasting and exemplary nature of her own trajectory.
“Music is within me,” Sangaré declares. “Without it, I’m nothing, and nothing can take it away from me! I’ve put my life into this record, my whole life–this life in which I’ve known hunger, the humiliation of poverty and fear, and from which today, I draw glory.”
To learn more about Oumou Sangaré, please visit her website (https://oumousangareofficial.com/en/home/).
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