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PAM Meets: Oumou Sangaré calls upon Malian and French leaders

PAM met the Malian diva Oumou Sangaré before her concert at the festival Les Suds d'Arles. In words and in song, she takes a stand on the condition of women, the Wassoulou region, and Franco-Malian relations.

There’s no need for us to explain why the Malian singer is a fighter. Oumou Sangaré doesn’t need to demonstrate this either. Just being herself, in the world and on stage, with her openness and boldness is enough. Not to mention how she lights up people’s faces, like those of Arles and elsewhere, when she lets her voice fly. While attending her concert last July, PAM took advantage of the sound check in the heat of the ancient theater to chat with the singer for a few hours before she went on stage.

Sitting on a venerable stone block, in the shade of the trees, she patiently answered our questions, and shed light on the meaning of her songs which, for non-Bambaraphones, deserve some explanations. “Gniani Sara” evokes the strength of women and encourages them not only in the face of daily difficulties but also in the face of the lack of recognition that they suffer everywhere. “Wassoulou Don“, from her latest album, sings about the beauty and richness of Wassoulou, a region that is dear to her and that she has decided to promote by organizing FIWA, the International Festival of Wassoulou, every year. Finally, there is “Kele Magni“, about the harms of war conflict. And in these times of conflicts at home, and with tensions rising between the French and Malian governments, the song bears a newfound importance.

© Stéphane Barbier

When Oumou Sangaré talks about it, we feel moved and understandably irritated: “the politicians have an interest – we shouldn’t even have to ask them – they have an interest in finding the solution, and right away (…) because the French and Malian people live together as if nothing had happened,” she hammered in July, taking on the accents and the grandeur of a griot, which she is not, to invite the leaders of the two countries to reconcile. Since our meeting at the Festival Les Suds, things have hardly improved between the two states. But we feel that she is capable, on this subject, of not giving up, and of continuing to repeat the same message tirelessly, wherever she performs: kele magni, conflict only brings unhappiness, all the more so between such old acquaintances. 

We invite you to enjoy this video (directed by Florent de la Tullaye), with not only the strength of her words but also the power of her music, which knows how to transform frustrations and sad days into celebration and a positive spirit. A great woman who did not have an easy life, starting by singing in the street to sell water, is certainly a figure to follow. Something we do our best to capture in the many years of inspiration she has given us.