Edited by Azizi Powell
This post presents excerpts of online articles about West African (Mali, Ivory Coast, and Guinea) Wassoulou (Wasoulou, Wassolo)) music. Five video of Wasoulou music are also showcased in this post.
The content of this post is presented for cultural, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.
All copyrights remain with their owners.
Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post and all those who are featured in these videos. Thanks also to the publishers of these videos on YouTube.
EXCERPTS OF ARTICLES ABOUT WASOULOU MUSIC
..."The role of women in Mali as bearers of the tradition and as innovators of popular culture, especially though the medium of music, has been largely ignored in Mande studies though this is changing with recent scholarship by De Jorio, Grosz-Ngate, Brand, Hoffman, Durán, Maxwell, and Schulz amongst others (see bibliography). Hale reflects this in his overview of scholarship on the art of the griots, but does not mention other types of music in which women singers excel, such as wassoulou (Hale 1998). Charry, in his comprehensive study of Mande (Maninka and Mandinka) music, admits that “one major area I have barely broached is differences in musical training, performance, and reception between males and females… … Lucy Durán’s work
with women and music sets a high standard showing the significance of this area. One result of my neglect of women and music is the noticeable lack of discussion of vocal music, a major – some might say the major – aspect of Mande music making” (Charry 2000: 345-6).
Charry does make several references to Wasulu, its musical traditions and their influence on local styles, and acknowledges the popularity of the women singers, especially in relation to the jelimuso (female griots, the hereditary endogamous musicians):
“the praise singing associated with jelimusolu is going to have a tough time surviving, as the surge of popularity that Wasulu female singers have been enjoying in the 1990s has demonstrated” (Charry 2000: 350).
The music known as wassoulou (see Durán 1995 for a description of the history of the style), is named after the Wasulu region, which straddles three political borders (Ivory Coast, Guinea, and Mali). (These two spellings are used here to distinguish between the name of the style of music wassoulou, which reflects French colonial orthography, since this is how it is usually represented on locally produced cassettes, as opposed to the name of the geographicalregion Wasulu, which is spelt here according to modern Bamana orthography; see Durán 1995. These spellings however are not followed by Maxwell, who uses the term Wassolu for both music and region, and who indeed had not read this author’s publications when she was
writing her thesis; as stated in her introduction (Maxwell 2002).
Maxwell’s hitherto unpublished PhD study focuses on the recreation of regional Wasulu music in Bamako; her understanding of the overall development of this music and its sources and key artists agree with this author (Durán)’s account, and there is much important new and rich data and observation in her research. Her emphasis is on the way that singers of Wasulu draw on the concept of destiny as explanation for their musical performance in the public domain, in a country where griots dominate professional music; while this author
focused on the symbolism of the kono (songbird) as an expression of freedom.
One of the many distinctive features of this highly rhythmic, pentatonic, youth oriented music is that the singers describe themselves as kònò (songbird), a symbol of a beautiful voice, but also of freedom of expression, and of achieved rather than ascribed musical status, that is, they are not born into a griot lineage, but become musicians by choice.
Wasulu’s music has enjoyed enormous popularity in mali since the 1990s, and has engered many local stars, who draw in various ways on several regional styles from southern Mali.
This author (Durán 1995, 2000, 2003, 2006) has previously written about the adaptation and transformation by youth of the music of the ancient hunters’ societies (donsoton) music - probably the oldest form of music in Mali today (Charry 2000) (see music 6). As already argued by Durán, and further supported by Maxwell’s PhD thesis, this adaptation provides the main trademark sound of wassoulou, with its characteristic “youth harp”, the kamalengoni (see music 9), a smaller and higher-pitched, non-ritual version of the hunters’ harp (donsongoni)....
In this radio programme, [Malian vocalist Oumou] Sangaré, who has rarely visited Wasulu even though she evokes its styles, language and identity in her songs, highlights the importance of the kamalengoni as signifier of youth culture, and as the defining marker of her personal style.
Travelling through the countryside with Sangaré, talking to villagers about her music, and noting her interactions with them, suggested that her personal success and stardom has made her an important role model for women. She has also contributed to the enduring popularity of the kamalengoni in Wasulu, where it is now used in many different contexts, such as to accompany women’s work in the fields and collecting water at the well. Indeed the kamalengoni has now moved beyond the world of wassoulou music (see speech link 13), and
its playing technique has become virtuosic; some players have added up to four extra strings and the use of machine heads for tuning is now widely adopted.
Whilst the metaphor of the kònò (songbird) is ancient, it should not obscure the fact that some Wasulu musicians are from blacksmith families, and therefore belong to the nyamakala group of endogamous artisans. For example, Wasulu singers Nahawa Doumbia and Kokanko Sata Doumbia are blacksmiths, as signalled by their surname, Doumbia. The latter is one of the few women who also play the kamelengoni, an instrument that is otherwise only performed by males (even its name means “male-youth harp”), though in fact,
Kokanko’s mother is a jeli, a Kouyate. (Interview with Durán, Bamako, 2005).
Sangaré’s own discourse around wassoulou music (cf Durán 1995) typically focuses on the contrasting role of the Wasulu “songbird” to that of the hereditary griots; the Wasulu “songbirds” sing for the wellbeing of the community, unlike the songs of the griots that praise individuals (see Durán 1995). This kind of discourse was especially significant during the transitional years for Mali following the military coup in 1991, which ended a 23-year military dictatorship that had favoured the griot, ushering in Mali’s first democratically
elected government. Maxwell also reflects this binary opposition in her analysis of the role of wassoulou singers (Maxwell 2003: 52; 124). Oumou claims that she wanted fellow Malians “to be able to identify with something different. And now Mali has become very rich in its music, whereas before, it was only one voice, the voice of the griots, that could be heard. If you wanted something different, you were obliged to listen to foreign music. I think I changed that.” (interview with author, Bamako, June 2003).
Oumou Sangaré’s success as a very young, unmarried female singer working in a nonjeli regional idiom was unprecedented, and opened the door for other non-jeli artistes under the new democracy, which many Malians saw as a breath of fresh air."...
"Wassoulou is a genre of West African popular music, named after the region of Wassoulou. It is performed mostly by women, using lyrics that address women's issues regarding childbearing, fertility and polygamy. Instrumentation includes soku (a traditional fiddle sometimes replaced with modern imported instruments), djembe drum, kamalen n'goni (a six-stringed harp), karinyan (metal tube percussion) and bolon (a four-stringed harp). The vocals are typically passionate, emphatic and in a call-and-response format. Prominent artists include Oumou Sangaré, Coumba Sidibe, Dienaba Diakite, Kagbe Sidibe, Sali Sidibe, Jah Youssouf, and Fatoumata Diawara. Several of these prominent artists perform on an album called The Wassoulou Sound: Women of Mali."
From http://bombmagazine.org/article/2031/oumou-sangare Oumou Sangare by Zoë AngleseyBOMB 58, Winter 1997 [Interview With Oumou Sangare]
..."Do you consider yourself a griotte?
OS I am not a griotte. Griots have nothing. They come to your home and ask for money before they sing. Me, I am Peul.
SDJ What does it mean to be Peul in Mali?
OS The Peuls are just about everywhere in Africa. It’s a group of shepherds who follow the cattle from land to land. Since ancient times, our great great great grandparents, the Peul people, have traversed all of Africa, from Chad, Cameroon, Ethiopia, to South Africa, Senegal, Guinea—we are everywhere, and we speak the Peul language.
SDJ But don’t you speak Bambara?
OS When our parents settled is Wassoulou, close to where they speak Malinke, we lost our native Peul language. They wanted to speak Malinke. Now, the language of Wassoulou is a mix of both—Bambara and Wassoulounké. It’s in this language that I sing.
"Oumou Sangare is the voice of feminism in West Africa. In a region where polygamy is the norm, and women are often viewed as the property of their husbands, Sangare’s music has come to symbolize the struggle against gender imbalance. In addition to their social content, Sangare’s songs are full of the joy and spirit that the traditional rhythms of Mali have been communicating for generations. Over the last few years, Sangare has become one of Africa’s biggest pop stars, as well as a major force in the European and American world music scenes.
Since Mali gained its independence in the early 1960s, the Wassoulou region has produced a steady flow of wonderful female vocalists. These singers—a group that has included Coumba Sidibe, Sali Sidibe, and Flan Saran—collectively influenced the creation of a musical style based on the region’s traditional dances and rhythms. Those rhythms, combined with local instruments such as the djembe drum and the kamalengoni—a harp-like instrument invented by local youths during this period— eventually gave rise to a new popular musical style called wassoulou, named after the region in which it originated. The wassoulou style communicates a sense of youthful rebellion and freedom."
Example #1: MALI: Oumou SANGARE - Diaraby Nene
Tyrus Maximus. Uploaded on Sep 23, 2009
Oumou SANGARE - Diaraby Nene - music from Mali, West Africa. Enjoy!
The Oumou Sangare - Wassoulou Medley at African Night in Paris video that I had initially featured is no longer available.
Example #2: Mamou Sidibe - Mary
dadiiabsilone, Uploaded on Jan 18, 2012
Son père est un balafoniste confirmé et sa mère une célèbre chanteuse. Elle apprendra donc à leurs côtés. Plus tard, elle se fait remarquer pendant les fêtes du village au clair de lune.
Adolescente, elle chante pour encourager les paysans dans les champs, mais bien décidée a faire carrière, Mamou abandonne son village pour s'installer à Bamako. Et c'est au tournant des années 80 qu'elle intègre le groupe d'Oumou Sangaré. Choriste, elle participe à la réalisation de son premier album qui fera un véritable tabac : "Avec Oumou Sangaré, j'ai appris beaucoup de choses. elle a renforcé ma passion", précise t'elle.
A travers les "Sumu", les cérémonies de baptême et de mariage, Mamou consolide ses acquis et quitte le groupe d'Oumou Sangaré, Caprice ? Plutôt désir d'entreprendre une carrière solo. Mais il faudra attendre pratiquement dix ans avant qu'elle puisse prouver son talent...
Her father is an experienced balafon player and her mother a famous singer. She forged her talent at their sides. Later, she is remarked during the feasts of the village at the moonlight.
Teenager, she sings to encourage the peasants in the fields.Well decided to make a career, Mamou leaves her village to settle in Bamako. And, in the Eighties she integrates the group of Oumou Sangaré. Chorus-singer, she takes part in the realization of her first album which had a huge success: "With Oumou Sangaré, I learned much, she reinforced my passion for the music", she specifies.
Through the "Sumu", the ceremonies of baptism and marriage, Mamou consolidates her assets and leaves the group of Oumou Sangaré, Caprice? Rather desire to undertake a career solo. But ten years will have to pass before she can prove her talent"...
Example #3: Aminata kamissoko : sakokè
Mamesi Labelle, Published on Oct 15, 2012
Example #4: Fatoumata Kamissoko wassolon
Bakary Kaba, Published on Jan 31, 2015
Example #5: Wassolo Mama1
Moussa Niangaly, Published on Nov 9, 2015
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