Oumou Sangare, the singer touted as West Africa’s answer to American legend Aretha Franklin, comes a step closer to the soul queen in style with her latest album, Mogoya, while retaining her reputation as the matriarch of one of Mali’s richest cultural regions.
Sangare’s gravitation towards a more Westernised groove can be attributed to a French production collective that has worked with rock royalty such as Franz Ferdinand. The Songbird of Wassoulou’s seventh album in 27 years sends a powerful message, based on values such as solidarity and respect.
Although kamele n’goni lute-harp and calabash, tama and karignan percussion weave in and out throughout the new set, the traditional African instrumentation is subservient to electric guitars, keyboards, bass and kit-drum.
The distinctive drumming of Tony Allen — co-progenitor with Fela Kuti of Nigerian Afrobeat — generates the drive in Yere Faga, a song alluding to the taboo surrounding suicide, and Fadjamou, in which Sangare addresses the profound significance of family names in her culture.
Hand percussion and kick drum combine with n’goni and synth lines to produce a compelling pulse in Kamelemba.
Clattering cowbells and female vocal harmony back-up form the backdrop to Minata Waraba, a tribute to the resilience of mothers. In the funky Djoukourou, a fuzzy rock guitar solo supplants lute lines.
Slower and stripped back to bass and strings — at least for the first half — the bluesy title track allows Sangare’s raw and powerful voice a wider range of expression.
The international profile of Zimbabwean Mogoya Oumou Sangare No Format music, which peaked in the 1980s with the emergence of acts such as the Bhundu Boys, Thomas Mapfumo and Oliver Mtukudzi, has been revived in recent years with the ascent of a group of outliers from that troubled nation’s border region.
Mokoomba hails from a township located near the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe’s far northwest. Led by the extraordinary voice of leader Mathias Muzaza, the sextet sings in the minority language of Tonga and the more widely spoken Shona and Ndebele tongues.
The Zambezi River and its world-famous Victoria Falls inspire several songs on the band’s new recording, Luyando.
Mokoomba has toned down the rockorientation of its previous albums Kweseka (2009) and Rising Tide (2012) for a strippedback, predominantly acoustic sound. The new songs are also more deeply rooted in their local heritage and environment.
Embroidered with jazzy flute, opening cut Mokole emphasises the life-giving force of the river.
Kambowa refers to the traumatic displacement of the Tonga from their ancestral lands in the mid-1950s to make way for the Kariba Dam. This potent call and response song features impassioned singing in tandem with tribal drums and handclapping.
In Vimbe, clap sticks accompany quick-fire exchanges between the vocalists.
A cheeky courtship song, Nyaradzo, starts with lush vocal harmony that’s reminiscent of South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
In Kulindiswe and Muzwile, BaTonga rhythms are fused with the dancing electric guitar style of Congolese soukous.