Oumou Sangaré is a Grammy Award-winning Malian Wassoulou musician, sometimes referred to as “The Songbird of Wassoulou”. Wassoulou is a historical region south of the Niger River, where the music descends from age-old traditional song, often accompanied by a calabash.
This Bamako, Mali native is not just a musician, she is also a business woman. When she’s not singing—her fifth studio album Mogoya was released in May 2017 after an eight-year hiatus—she’s running her numerous businesses in the hospitality, agriculture and manufacturing industries. But Sangaré doesn’t remember a time when music was not a part of her life. Stepping in to help after her father abandoned their family, she sold water and began performing at weddings and baptisms, even skipping school on Thursdays to take advantage of one of Mali’s traditional days of marriage.
“I performed to more than 6,000 people for a singing competition at the Omnisport Stadium in Bamako when I was five,” she shares. “By 16, I was touring Europe as part of the percussion group Djoliba, [before] I returned home to record my debut album Moussolou at the age of 20.”
Moussolou became a sensation in Mali, but Oumou was still driven by the hardships she watched her mother endure while managing to maintain her dignity and a generosity toward others. “I owe everything to her! The force that is in me comes from this brave woman…I’ve paid tributes to her in a song called “Minata Waraba” (Minata the Lioness).
I inherited my mother’s singing talent and she always gives me advice when I write my songs.” Another driving force in her life was the loss she witnessed while watching her countrymen journey West. “We’ve lost many young people crossing the water,” Sangaré recalls. “In the song ‘Mali Nialé’ I call all Malians to come back to the country to work.”
Sangaré uses her music and her businesses to inspire and encourage Malians; especially the youth and women, to be autonomous and to invest in their country. That work never ends. She is in the process of organizing a music festival and building a hotel in her hometown of Wassalou in south-west Mali. Her next studio album, Mogoya Remixed drops this month as she continues her Mogoya tour around the world.