ARGUABLY today’s greatest African diva, Mali’s Oumou Sangaré returned to Celtic Connections – having first appeared here in 2009 – following rave reviews for her first album in eight years, last May’s Mogoya (“Today’s People”). Recorded with French production trio (and previous Franz Ferdinand collaborators) A.l.b.e.r.t., it sets her deep-rooted artistry amid freshly contemporary grooves and electronic sounds, recaptured here in slick, sleek fashion by a seven-piece band including electric kora and two dynamic backing singers/dancers.
Oumou Sangaré and Solo & Indrė, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall ***
Splendidly attired and effortlessly charismatic, Sangaré displayed marvellous expressive fluency spanning myriad techniques and timbres, from dazzling melismatic suppleness to sustained, soaring intensity.
In her native Wassoulou culture, rooted in the south of her homeland, she’s titled Sangaré kono, or “the songbird,” an honorific reserved not merely for outstanding voices, but for singers who address and challenge life’s realities. An especially celebrated champion of women’s issues, Sangaré also sings on Mogoya of Mali’s recent political crises, and its flow of refugees towards Europe, but as so often with such artists in a live setting, language barriers and lack of explication removed this key dimension from her performance, however feelgood the grooves and ambience – as reflected by side-aisles thronged with dancers by the end.
The opening duo of kora player Solo Cissokho, from Senegal, and Lithuania’s Indrė Jurgelevičiūtė on kanklés, her country’s traditional box zither, was a palpably labour-of-love pairing, intricately exploring the commonalities and differences between their respectively 21- and 29-string instruments, and their contrastingly earthy, resonant singing, but its delicacy and diffidence left their sound somewhat lost in such a large venue.