The rebel who became an ambassador.
Today, Oumou Sangaré belongs to stages all over the world, but she still goes by the adoring nickname “the songbird from Wassoulou”, an area where Sangarés home country Mali meets the Ivory Coast and Guinea, populated by approximately 160.000 people today. Wassoulou is also the name of the musical genre Sangaré was instrumental in popularizing. It is notable for its many female performers and lyrics reflecting that fact. Like a lot of music hailing from Mali, it is characterized by unique rhythmical patterns and dynamics, as well as instruments like djembe, the fiddle instrument soku, the harp ngony and vocal performances ranging from soothing to exhilarating. Her career comes from a rich cultural context, but what she has achieved with it is remarkable.
She has been a singer all her life, and while many listeners today will be quite well versed in music from Mali and other west african countries as part of what we recognize as the global music culture, perhaps we have to remind ourselves that it wasn’t always like that. In 1989, she sold 200.000 copies of her debut album “Moussoulou”, meaning “women”, in African countries. Then she signed with the London based label World Circuit, whereupon she quite simply conquered the world, with concerts from Oslo to Melbourne, from Roskilde Festival to WOMAD.
Sangaré has won the UNESCO International Music Prize, for her musical merits, but also her inexhaustible effort for peace and international cooperation. She is an ambassador for the World Food Programme, and she has been nominated for several Grammys. She has collaborated with artists such as Herbie Hancock, Meshell Ndegeocello, Alicia Keys and Dee Dee Bridgewater. She has also visited Oslo World twice before - the first time in 1997, the second in 2009, where she featured Fatoumata Diawara in her band, who since then has become one of the big Oslo World favourites. She has also performed at the Øya Festival in Oslo.
Rebels change what we take for granted. Sometimes, their success might actually overshadow their achievements. Today, Oumou Sangaré is a global music figure, a natural ambassador, both literally and figuratively, in the way her music has blazed trails for international cooperation and female artists. For Oslo World, the vulnerability of women, and the cultural importance of featuring gender minorities has become a natural part of our mission. Every year, we try to grapple with these themes in different ways. Some structures change, some still resist. A lot of the change is thanks to individuals, rebels and innovators, who set their own limits and transcend others. Who decide to sing - whether it is in celebration or protest - and who inspire others to search for the same freedom. Oumou Sangaré is one of the great singers of today and a prime example of the musical rebellion we wish to shine a light on during this year's festival.