Seya means ‘joy’ in Oumou Sangare’s native Soninké, and the Malian superstar knows exactly what joy isn’t. It’s not, according to Seya’s opening song, ‘Sounsomba’, despising women; or ‘Wele Wele Wintou’, forced marriage; it is not, according to ‘Mogo Kele’, about leaving the world no legacy; nor, according to ‘Sukunyali’, about damning immigrants. And it’s definitely not female genital mutilation. Oumou Sangare has much to say and the verve to deliver.
In the six years since Sangare’s début album, Moussoulou, the singer has capitalized on a sound that has always incorporated a funk-tinged drive. (When not in the studio or being a UN ambassador, Sangare is busy running – and singing – at her own Hotel Wassulu in Bamako.) Accompanied by a wide range of sound for this latest outing – jazzy horns, strings and the kamele ngoni (harp) played by trusty sidekick Benego Diakite – Seya is an album that simply flows. Its 11 songs have a rhetorical rhythm in their addresses to an audience, to ancestors, to the future of Mali. The issues inherent in the album are part of this process, but so too is the groove that Sangare gets going from the very start. If ever there were an album which not so much asks as orders its listeners to dance for cultural change, it is this magnificent outing.