Oumou Sangare and Leyla McCalla at City Winery— 7/27
Oumou’s latest album “Seya”,(Joy) released in 2009,has taken around two or three years to come to fruition. “I choose my songs very carefully. I learn how to put them across first on the stage.” Her music is bold, seductive, funky and vibrant, but it’s her lyrics that open people’s eyes. “For me, the lyrics are more important than the melody. I write almost all my own words. I also perform the classics of Malian tradition. I draw a lot of inspiration from what happens in society. As soon as I see or feel something, I write it down. I say what I want, and what I think, because I am a free woman. I believe that my music has had an impact on the life of African women.” “It’s true that when I sing it’s joyful but in amongst that joy I always take the opportunity to slip in messages that educate my nation.”
Oumou continues the battle to encourage equality between men and women and sings about universal themes in life such as love, death, destiny, respect for each other, hope and harmony, not forgetting a couple of light-hearted tunes about the fun things in life. “The track ‘Seya’ is about a girl who has a good time. She brings joy. It’s dedicated to my tailors and my stylists and those that dye the cloth. I wanted to show the courage of Malian women. They radiate every colour on this earth. I go to them for my hand-printed outfits in ‘bazin’ and ‘tissu wax’ fabrics. I give a lot of my clothes away, I don’t keep them.” Which explains why you hardly ever see Oumou in the same outfit twice.
She delights in surprising people, one moment the American R&B star, the next a dynamic businesswoman, or then again a real Malian diva in her traditional boubou. She bursts out laughing. “I possess the art of metamorphosis. In a boubou or in jeans, I’m unrecognisable.”
An icon and role model for modern women she is both keen to encourage and embrace new ideas through her music whilst at the time she holds a deep respect for tradition and those who came before her.
Oumou is an artist who is proud of her country and its diverse cultures, now recognised and appreciated throughout the world. “Mali is a country of oral tradition, which explains why music and society here are part of each other. The 32 different ethnic groups here each have their own well-developed culture. They don’t need each other to make good music, even though cross-fertilisation is always good. There should still be a lot more recognition for Malian music. I deeply respect each individual artist in Mali. Our potential is incredible. Mali and its music embody the symbol of a free and victorious Africa.”
Leyla McCalla lives in New Orleans, where she can be heard playing her cello in local clubs, on Royal Street and on the radio. She also works as a teaching artist at the New Orleans Strings Project. A native New Yorker, Leyla continues to work with many projects in both New York and New Orleans including Morgan O'Kane, the Magnolia Beacon and Sarah Quintana. She is presently composing music and giving her voice to the poetry of Langston Hughes.
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