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Arwa Haider

Making an entrance comes naturally to Oumou Sangaré. The Malian superstar and businesswoman looks glorious in a flowing dress and coiffured hair as she whirls on stage while her band fire up the vivacious groove of Kounkoun, from her new album, Mogoya. But it is when she opens her mouth that she really dazzles: Sangaré’s voice is a soulful joy, soaring to high notes and resounding with a husky richness.

Sangaré has earned her “songbird of Wassoulou” fame over three decades, releasing her 1990 international crossover album Moussolou aged 21. Tonight’s show focuses on her latest, contemporary-sounding productions, and her explanations flit between English and French for emphasis: “Les richesses sont dans la tête, dans la culture,” she declares, introducing Mali Niale. “Africa is not poor.”

She sings in Bambara, sometimes tackling startling themes: the taut, funky Yere Faga deals with suicide. “Don’t kill yourself because of suffering / Life on this Earth is not easy …”) The motivational tones that underline her music were in full force here – this is social commentary delivered in the sweetest tones, over a fluidly paced set. Sangaré works in slower emotion-drenched numbers, such as Minata Waraba’s homage to mothers, before the jubilant finale, Yala.

She highlights her band throughout, praising each instrumental flourish. Abou Diarra plays kamele ...

Making an entrance comes naturally to Oumou Sangaré. The Malian superstar and businesswoman looks glorious in a flowing dress and coiffured hair as she whirls on stage while her band fire up the vivacious groove of Kounkoun, from her new album, Mogoya. But it is when she opens her mouth that she really dazzles: Sangaré’s voice is a soulful joy, soaring to high notes and resounding with a husky richness.

Sangaré has earned her “songbird of Wassoulou” fame over three decades, releasing her 1990 international crossover album Moussolou aged 21. Tonight’s show focuses on her latest, contemporary-sounding productions, and her explanations flit between English and French for emphasis: “Les richesses sont dans la tête, dans la culture,” she declares, introducing Mali Niale. “Africa is not poor.”

She sings in Bambara, sometimes tackling startling themes: the taut, funky Yere Faga deals with suicide. “Don’t kill yourself because of suffering / Life on this Earth is not easy …”) The motivational tones that underline her music were in full force here – this is social commentary delivered in the sweetest tones, over a fluidly paced set. Sangaré works in slower emotion-drenched numbers, such as Minata Waraba’s homage to mothers, before the jubilant finale, Yala.

She highlights her band throughout, praising each instrumental flourish. Abou Diarra plays kamele ngoni like a rock star, plucking strings with his teeth; backing vocalists/dancers Kandy Guira and Emma Lamadji show exquisite flair. Sangaré herself retains an immaculate poise, even when she’s tearing up the stage.

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