Oumou Sangaré: Timbuktu

September 1, 2022

Cry the Beloved Country

Listening Post 356. Once a center of trade and learning graced by canals and mango trees, Timbuktu languishes today, a victim of poverty, desertification and war. As political decay spreads, Oumou Sangaré sees the legendary city as a symbol of her beloved Mali—how it lost its way and how it might flourish again. Sangaré is one of her country’s leading singer-songwriters—however broken its politics, Mali is still a music superpower—and her path from poverty to stardom informs her view of societal dysfunction. On her ninth album she remains faithful to her early vision and ancestral values of respect and generosity and stands opposed to child marriage, genital mutilation and oppression of women. Though born in Bamako, Sangaré’s music is rooted in her family’s home Wassulu* region—one of Mali’s most stable—regarded as the wellspring of American blues and a key to her own blues-rock-folk-traditional fusion. Her voice is a blend of velvet and grit, a powerful, often hypnotic, conduit for heavy subjects tempered with hope, and backed by an instrument panel that includes ngoni, balafon, guitars, dobro and electronics. The opening track, Wassulu Don (Wassulu People, video 1), offers a tranquil contrast to the turmoil of Timbuktu; while Sarama (Listen, video 2) counsels amity over jealousy in response to another person or region’s good fortune. Sira (Baobab, video 3), uses a venerated tree as allegory for how prosperity in one generation gives no guarantee for the next. In Kêlê Magni (War Is a Plague, video 4) Sangaré sings the album’s central anthem, a passionate cry for reconciliation. And in the title track she urges Malians to rediscover their ancient wisdom and the ethos of a once-great city (video 5). Music can’t replace politics, but every peace movement inspires a soundtrack and Oumou Sangaré’s Timbuktu can take its place in Mali’s—and the world’s—liberation canon. (Oumsang/World Circuit Records)

Oumou Sangaré: Timbuktu
Oumou Sangaré: Lead vocals, backing vocals
Pascal Danaë: Dobro, guitars, piano, keyboards, Moog, percussion, backing vocals
Nicolas Quéré: Moog, piano, clarinet, keyboards, percussion
Mamadou Sidibé: Ngoni, keyboards, percussion, backing vocals
Baptiste Brondy: Percussion, drums
William Calhoun: Percussion
David Coltun: Violin
Rob Coltun: Guitar
Cheick Diabata: Banjo
Adama Diarra: Djembe
Abou Diarra: Percussion
Bala Kouyate: Balafon
Emma Lamadji: Backing vocals
Michael Coltun: Bass
Eliéser Oubda: Keyboards
Rafgee: Sousaphone
Diarra Moussa Saifal: Flute
Laurent Vernerey: Bass

*Alternate spellings for Wassulu include “Wassoulou,” “Wassalou” and “Ouassalou.”


Wassulu Don / Wassulu People
Lyrics & music: Oumou Sangaré

(From the Bambara lyrics)
Wassulu people, I am so glad: we have reached a dazzling achievement!
We were regarded as miserable n’goni players, singers, dancers only interested in partying and enjoying life…

Well we, the people of Wassulu, have proved them wrong by turning our dear Wassulu into a shelter for Peace
a developing area, thanks to colossal investments: schools, health centres and hotels

We’ve even managed to lead the way to development for the whole country
Who could do better?

Let’s go to Wassulu, where hospitality, sweet life and great events blossom in the local daily life
Come with me to Wassulu, where joy is everywhere!


Sarama / Listen
Lyrics & music: Oumou Sangaré

Listen, listen, God’s will and humankind’s will are not the same
Constantly criticizing someone who you love and admire is a foolish attitude

Listen, listen, instead of being jealous of someone who is predestined, blessed and lucky
you should make friends with them: it will be for the best

So don’t be jealous of Wassulu’s people because they are blessed and lucky
And don’t be jealous of Oumou Sangaré, she has done you no wrong

I ask you not to be jealous of a child who is blessed and lucky: it would be absolutely foolish!
Try to make friends with them, it will turn to your advantage


Sira / Baobab
Lyrics & music: Oumou Sangaré

Leave the river shores, oh women, where you wash clothes, there are caimans, snakes and even hippopotamuses!
The baobab’s trunk is smooth, but its fruits are rough

This man’s father is a great scholar, but his child is a delinquent
A good person’s child may not resemble them

Wise men of Wassulu told me to give birth to a child who would not be like you
In a certain way, the caiman can beget a lizard, the sheep can beget a rabbit, the cow can beget a goat… life is not always logical!

The baobab’s trunk is smooth, but its fruits are rough


Kêlê Magni / War Is a Plague
Lyrics & music: Oumou Sangaré

War is a plague/My country might disappear/I tell you, war is not a solution!
War has no friends nor allies, and there are no real enemies
All people are suffering from this war: Burkina, Ivory Coast… everyone!

War rages everywhere in Africa, especially in the north and in the center of Mali/Hey African people, War is not a solution!
War is not a good thing, my poor Malian people/If we are not able to make peace, the whole world will laugh at us.

Ageloc, Timbuktu, Kidal/War has never built anything; it destroys all that it finds
My country might disappear in a war and its betrayals!
War is in Timbuktu, war is everywhere in Mali… Let’s avoid war because it has never built anything


Lyrics & music: Oumou Sangaré, Mamadou Sidibé 

I came to tell the Malian people, and the entire world, that the holy city of Timbuktu is a city of science and knowledge
Malians, where is our historical greatness ? Where is our reputation as a country of peace, knowledge, togetherness and cordiality?

Timbuktu, crossroad of knowledge, where stood the greatest university in the world, the ancient mosque of Djingareyber (Islam’s anthological mosque)…
Timbuktu, city of the 333 saints, legendary city known all over the world

Poets, writers and even the griots from Mali wonder, “Where are the values our ancestors gave us?”
They will all disappear if we don’t pay attention

Malian people, let’s wake up from this deep sleep
Do not forget how great we were
And be sure that we still be can be!



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