Restorations: Oumou Sangare, Seya

By Daniel Garrett

Oumou Sangare, Seya
Produced by Nick Gold, Oumou Sangare, Cheick T. Seck
World Circuit/Nonesuch, 2009

I sometimes listen to a lot of music, and, unfortunately, there is a point when it can become just noise, and I think I was in one of those phases when I heard Oumou Sangare’s Seya, which immediately restored my ability to perceive and respond: her music restores one’s ears and one’s spirit. “Sounsoumba,” with its fast light rhythms is full of energy and Sangare’s darkly warm and roundly feminine voice—her voice sounds direct, honest, strong, and a little sad (although in its high range it reminds me of the Ethiopian Aster Aweke, I found myself thinking that Sangare’s voice is more baritone than soprano or contralto). A youthful chorus joins her on “Sukunyali,” which features a distinctive stringed instrument. There is a lot of interplay among the musical elements in the song “Sukunyali,” and a dark groove—suggesting both jazz and funk—lies beneath “Kounadya,” and male voices complement—and suggest community—in “Donso,” which precedes “Wele Wele Wintou.” There is a melancholy tone to “Senkele te sira,” while “Djigui” blends joy and sadness, the private and the public, with a steady rhythm that could accompany meditation or dancing. Sangare’s full-throated singing in the song “Seya,” which has what seems a full-band arrangement with horns, is able to project amusement and sorrow and wisdom. The compositions “Iyo Djeli” and “Mogo Kele” and “Koroko” conclude the collection, and the small tumbling beats in “Mogo Kele” suggest the movements of daily life as much as music and “Koroko” seems both celebratory and deeply authoritative, as if offering advice and correction.

Daniel Garrett studied African art and music along with writing and politics at the New School for Social Research, and he was an intern at Africa Report (the African-American Institute), and later poetry editor for the male feminist Changing Men, and he founded the Cultural Politics Discussion Group at ABC No Rio and Poets House, and wrote about painter Henry Tanner for Art & Antiques, organized the first interdepartmental environmental justice meeting at Audubon, wrote about fiction and poetry for World Literature Today, and The Review of Contemporary Fiction, and about international film for Offscreen and Cinetext. “There is a lot of good music made in different parts of the globe, in Africa and elsewhere—such as the work of Toumani Diabate, Cesaria Evora, Habib Koite, and Richard Bona,” says Daniel Garrett, whose work has appeared also in The African,, Film International, Hyphen,,, Option, and His e-mail addresses are and