Oumou Sangare - Basic Facts:
Oumou Sangare was born on February 25, 1968 in Bamako, the capital city of Mali. Her mother was a singer, who performed at weddings and village dances. Her father took a second wife and abandoned the family when Sangare was young. She began singing in local talent competitions to help her mother pay the bills, and by age sixteen, was a touring musician.
Oumou Sangare recorded her first album, called Moussoulou in 1989, and it became a hit throughout Africa. This success led to her being signed with an international record label, World Circuit Records, and ultimately to international renown. She has since recorded four more albums, all of which have been critically acclaimed throughout the world, leading her to become an unofficial ambassador for Wassoulou music and a major force in African feminism.
Wassoulou is a geographical region (not, as is occasionally misreported, an ethnic group) of Southern Mali, Western Guinea, and Northern Cote d'Ivoire. Wassoulou music is primarily performed by female singers who are accompanied by drums, harp (either kora or related instruments), and soku (a two-stringed fiddle). Lyrics often tackle women's issues, such as marriage, motherhood, and the challenges of living in a patriarchal society.
Feminism and Outreach:
Oumou Sangare's music is strongly feminist, and frequently discusses the issues of marital choice and consent for African women, as well as the difficult topic of polygamy. She is a strong anti-FGM activist, and uses her fame to promote her strong views on women's basic human rights.
Awards and Honors:
Oumou Sangare was made a commander of the Arts and Letters of the Republic of France in 1998, won the UNESCO music prize in 2001, and was named an official ambassador of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 2003. In addition, her 1993 album Ko Sira won the European award for "World Music Album of the Year."
Notorious for her abundant energy, Oumou Sangare has somehow found the time to take up a number of side projects in the business world. She owns a hotel in Bamako as well as a large farm north of the city, and has partnered with a Chinese automobile company to create a car called the "Oum Sang."