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Mixed media: music reviews


Mali's 'songbird' is a powerful advocate of women's rights


by Oumou Sangaré (No Format! NF36, CD and NF361, digital)

Singer, musician, entrepreneur: Oumou Sangaré is truly a powerhouse of energy among African women. Mali’s ‘Songbird of Wassoulou’, as she’s often called, was brought up surrounded by traditional music: Sangaré’s mother was a ceremonial singer who was much in demand, until depression struck when her husband abandoned the family, and the young girl – who had been following in her mother’s musical lineage – stepped up as the breadwinner.

The effect of Sangaré’s young immersion in Malian music and the need to grow up is written through her mature music and in Mogoya (‘People Today’), her first album since 2012. Instruments such as calabash, karignan (metal scrapers) and kamele n’goni (harp) are employed alongside keyboards, drums (courtesy of Tony Allen, once Fela Kuti’s mighty bandleader) and some deliberately underplayed electric guitars and synth.

With the French production team ALBERT at the controls, the upshot is that Sangaré’s deep and mellifluous voice is very much centre stage. But Sangaré is also known for her powerful advocacy of women’s rights: she goes back to basics here, comparing her mother to a lioness on ‘Minata Waraba’. Other songs inveigh against womanizers and praise people who support one another. The beautiful closing track, a slow, languorous song that’s actually about emotional insincerity, leaves the listener wanting more.

★★★★ LG


The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda

by Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda (Luaka Bop LBOP-08, CD, cassette, 2LP and digital)

Alice Coltrane (1937-2007) was a great jazz multi-instrumentalist and musical visionary whose name is usually tethered to that of her husband, John – himself no slouch in genre-busting and uplifting musical ecstasies. After John’s death in 1967, Alice continued composing and exploring transcendental music-making. It was around this period that she visited India and added the Sanskrit surname, Turiyasangitananda.

Released by David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label, The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda is the first of a series that highlights transcendental music. If the series continues as it starts, listeners are in for multiple treats, for this album is both richly sonorous and stunning in its implications for shifting composition into new fields. Its eight tracks, remastered expertly by Baker Bigsby, the sound engineer who worked on the original sessions, are compiled from four cassette albums that Coltrane made between 1982-95 at her ashram in the US.

Taken in all, this album is a multi-textured collection of music that Coltrane wrote for meditation purposes. There is a huge range of pace and orchestration: from the joyous, funked-out groove and chant of ‘Om Rama’ and ‘Rama Guru’ to the chant-and-keyboard work ‘Keshava Murahara’. At times, slabs of Coltrane’s keyboards rise up in pitch like a sonic elevator to the heavens. The overall effect? Something quite extraordinary. Complete with a well-considered package of interviews and erudite sleevenotes, Luaka Bop properly brings Alice Coltrane back to her due limelight.

★★★★ LG


New Internationalist issue 502 magazine cover This article is from the May 2017 issue of New Internationalist.
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