Album title: Seya
Performer: Oumou Sangare
Label: World Circuit
Playing time: 56'29"
Recorded: Bologan Studios, Bamako

Celebrated today as Mali's top female vocalist, Oumou Sangare's breakout album was 1990's Moussolou which reportedly sold a quarter million copies. Writing all her own material, Sangare has always addressed herself directly to topics relevant to women in today's West African societies and her circular music deftly mixes traditional instruments like the n'goni, balafon and calabash with electric guitars and basses. 20 years after Moussolou and produced by Nick Gold, Seya continues with the same serious thematic which underlie her eleven new songs like protesting the typically enforced marriages. Unless one studied the lyrics in the liner notes however, the very dancy exchanges between lead singer and backup chorus will seem mostly jubilant and celebratory.

That's why critics have compared Sangare to Billie Holiday and Nina Simone, two very famous singers with highly individualized deliveries whose songs likewise focused on women's daily struggles. Listening to Seya, with the vocals riding loopy rhythms undulating and returning endlessly, one quickly feels slightly tipsy and hypnotized. It's a clear indication that much African music derives from trance dance. While saxophone and flute, even violins and a complete horn section show up as focused flavors, the overall vibe stays close to percussion carpets into which are woven basic melodic motifs which keep spinning and spinning. Despite employing two dozen musicians, Seya seems very deliberately constructed to remain intimate and rootsy. It's not a multi-layered glossy studio exploit but music from the land and of the people.