I saw her perform at the Festival sur le Niger this year and the audience ohhh’s and ahhhh’s said it all really. She is gorgeous and sexy and a fantastic performer.
Oumou’s first public appearance was at the scarily young age of six at the massive Stade des Omnisports in Bamako. She went on to become a member of the National Ensemble of Mali, the training ground for many of the country’s top musicians, and then part of the traditional percussion troupe Djoliba.
After the troupe’s European tour in 1986, Oumou returned home and focused on nurturing her solo career and creating her own sound based on the styles and traditions of her ancestral homeland, Wassoulou. She worked for two years with the revered arranger Amadou Ba Guindo and musicians including Boubacar Diallo and Aliou Traore, mixing and trying out different combinations of instruments and rhythms, bringing in the modern violin and the traditional calabash and working on her writing.
After two years hard slog and at 21, Oumou’s 1989 album release Massoulou – a collection of six original compositions — hit the spot, selling over 200,000 copies. She became a star in West Africa almost overnight. It took a tip off from Ali Farka Toure to the UK label World Circuit in 1991 for the album to be released internationally to a very eager audience.
Oumou received numerous awards in Mali and the European World Music album of the Year (1993) for her second album Ko Sira (Marriage Today), released in 1993, and she then began touring internationally — across Africa, Europe and the USA.
For her third album Worotan (Ten Kola Nuts — the traditional bride-price in Mali), released in 1996, Oumou set her standards high and worked with Pee Wee Ellis – known for playing with James Brown — and Nitin Sawhney.
It could only get better for her, the fourth album Laban released domestically in 2001 went gold in Mali with over 100,000 official cassettes sold. In the same year, Oumou was awarded the International Music Council/UNESCO Music Prize for her contribution through her music to ‘the enrichment and development of music as well as serving peace, understanding between peoples and international co-operation.’
2003 saw World Circuit release Oumou – a ‘best of’ compilation and numerous international tour dates, including WOMAD and the London Jazz Festival.
She has soul oozing out of her — that’s one thing — but she is also committed to the serious issue of the rights of women throughout the world, hence the UNESCO prize. As she says; “All the women of Africa, I say, you tighten your belt, you endure the pain, you become lost in dark thoughts, but hold on with both hands, because one day, there will be light in your life.”
I don’t think any album could beat her on-stage presence and performance — she strides around like a queen with an electric soul. Nothing since 2003′s, Oumou apart from tours. I have her 2001 album Laban — a sultry collection of tracks. Oumou juggles the different styles and instruments and somehow inhabits them with her voice. There’s the blues sounds of the guitars in ‘My Yetima’, followed by the pop/ funk of ‘Ya La’ and throughout, the rustling of the fle, the sweet sharp sound of the violin and that pacey Wassoulou beat.
The sound is bursting with confidence and intelligence, and once you’ve got past that you just wish you knew the language and could receive her wisdom.
1993 Ko Sira
Also Appears On
2005 Africa: The Women’s Voice
2004 Awards for World Music 2004
2004 The Very Best of Africa, Vol. 2
2003 Africa: The Essential Album
2003 African Woman
2003 Mali Lolo: Stars of Mali
2003 The Very Best of World Divas
2001 The Music of Mali [Nascente]
2000 African Voices [Manteca]
2000 In Griot Time: String Music From Mali
2000 The Empresses of Africa
2000 Unwired: Africa (Rough Guide)
2000 Women of the World
1999 African Queens
1999 Sono Afrique
1999 Sono Afrique: Deserts
1998 African Blues
1998 Afro World Compilation, Vol. 1
1998 Ambiances du Sahara: Desert Blues
Oumou on World Circuit