Oumou Sangare is a Malian singer and song writer who discovered her talent and practised it at a very young age. For her, growing up was not a ‘chocolaty’ affair; life started off under the most traumatic circumstances. Oumou started raising money to support her family at the age of 5, as her father had abandoned them. Her sonorous voice was heard in almost every local competition and gathering. Her mother Aminata Diakite, at the time was also a singer who performed in weddings and village dances. This extra ordinarily gifted child once made it to the finals of a contest for the nursery schools of Bamako, after which she performed in front of a crowd of 6,000 at the Omnisport Stadium. By age 16, she was already a touring musician; one of her tours was with the percussion group Djoliba. Oumou writes and composes her songs, which often include social criticism, especially concerning women’s low status in society and polygamy.
Oumou Sangare was born in 1968 in Bamako, the capital of Mali; her family, though, was from Wassoulou, in the South-Western region of Mali. Oumou is the leading female star and ambassador of the Wassoulou sound which is based on an ancient tradition of hunting rituals mixed with songs about devotion, praise, and harvest played with pentatonic (five-note) melodies popular in her region, Southern Guinea and also Northern Cote d’Ivoire . Wassoulou is basically done by female singers accompanied by drums, harp and soku. The women also play the fle, a calabash strung with cowrie shells, which they spin and throw into the air in time to the music. This explains why she is sometimes called “the song bird of Wassoulou”. In 1986, at age eighteen, Oumou Sangare was already a house hold name in Africa and beyond; she toured Europe and the Caribbean with a 27-piece folkloric troupe. Few years down the line, in 1989 precisely; she recorded her first album, Moussoulou (women) with Amadou Ba Guindo, a renowned expert in Malian music. The album became a major hit throughout Africa and sold over 200,000 copies. This success led to her being signed with an international record label, World Circuit Records. She has since recorded more albums, all of which have been highly acclaimed throughout the world.
This woman of excellence has also performed at some of the most important occasions and music shows in the world like the Melbourne Opera, Festival d’Essaouira, Opera de la monnaie of Brussels and then the Roskilde festival. In 1995 she toured around the world on the Africa Fete tour along with Baaba Maal, Boukman Ekspervans and Femi Kuti.
Oumou is not only known to excel in the music industry, she is also a first class business expert. She owns a 30 room Hotel in Bamako, Mali; a structure she not only supervised but also took part in building; to show women that hard work pays. According to her, “I helped build the hotel myself. I did it to show women that you can make your life better by working. And many more are working these days, forming co-operatives to make soap or clothes.”
She also launched a car, the “Oum Sang”, manufactured by a Chinese firm and marketed in conjunction with her own company Gonow Oum Sang. Oumou was named Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, but insists that she is not a politician and does not aspire to be one, because she believes that: “While you’re an artist, you’re free to say what you think; when you’re a politician, you follow instructions from higher up.” And I totally agree with her.
Her album “Seya” was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Music Album in 2010 and in 2011 she won a Grammy for best pop collaboration with vocals performed with Herbie Hancock for “Imagine”.
This gifted singer and song writer has remained a strong voice for African women and uses her fame to promote her strong views on the basic rights of women.
There are good and bad uses of fame; choose to make a difference with whatever you have got.