Songs in Many Tongues: Oumou Sangaré (Mali, Africa)

The Many Are One

When a strange song
enters your ears
and your soul cannot help
but sing along, not knowing  
what it says, not knowing
what tongue it sings in
only that your heart
must hear it, must feel it,
no one has to tell you
that all is alright now,
no one has to tell you
that the many are in fact one,
that the stranger who sings
is someone you already know.

Mali songwriter, singer, social activist, Oumou Sangare.

Known as “The Songbird of Wassoulou”, Oumou Sangaré (b. 1968) is a cultural treasure in her homeland of Mali, Africa. Wassooulou is a historical region south of the Niger River and is known for its rich musical heritage of songs characterized by pentatonic style and irresistible loping polyrhythms.

With her deep and sensual voice, Oumou delivers songs that are deeply moving even though they’re in a language few outsiders understand. This is not just music for entertainment. As with so much African music, these are songs that are rich in metaphors and poetry and in Oumou’s case, songs that champion women’s rights and exhort ethical behavior, The emotions that accompanies her moral conviction is totally authentic, and reverberate at the very heart of her music which, in spite of cultural distance, manages still to beguile us.

Here is “Mogoya”, the last track from Oumou’s fifth album of the same name released in 2017.

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