festivus: featuring the wassoulou queen

Oumou Sangare, the 'Wassoulou Queen'

Oumou Sangare at Festivus

This year’s Festivus for the Restivus festival has been called the “Manifestivus”, in reflection of the scope and the weight of the offerings in their 7th anniversary season. That’s even the name of the website: www.manifestivus.com. If they had called it the Megamanifestivus it would underestimate the power of the experience.

Arnaud, Oumou's cool audio engineer

Arnaud, Oumou's cool audio engineer

I’m still a bit in disbelief today – did I really see that, do that, hear all of that last night? I did. The pictures on my camera today prove it even if it seems like it was a dream.

Several months ago I remember hearing that Oumou Sangaré was coming to Vermont for this year’s festival. It didn’t seem likely (much less possible, she so rarely tours!) and I put the thought out of my mind. Only recently was I reminded again of the rumor, which by then was no longer a rumor. It had become the buzz: it was true, Oumou was coming to Vermont for Festivus.    

In recent weeks Oumou and her 10-piece band have been at the Montreal Jazz Festival, in Toronto, Central Park, and many other places on tour with their newest release, Seya. I’ve heard it, and I really like it. But nothing compares to hearing the same songs coming to life in the energy of  a live set. With themes of women’s equality and empowerment, personal strength, and love, the songs are rhythmically complex and irresistably catchy. They’re also very instrumentally rich, with the kora, soku, gita, and calabash drums giving the music its distinctly West African flavor. What a special treat to actually see all of those instruments being played.

Before the show started I spent a little time keeping dry under the edge of the tent protecting the sound board. I met Arnaud, the engineer traveling with Oumou Sangaré’s group on this tour. Like many of the other visitors at the Festivus festival, he remarked on the quality of both the equipment and the on-site crew. Every bit of that came through in the show. There were some intermittent feedback issues throughout the set, particularly with Oumou’s mic. But consider that it was opening night, with a largely volunteer crew, in an open-air stage under persistent and sometimes heavy showers. In the middle of a hay field!

The spotty feedback proved to be the only setback when the conditions (lots of water + lots of electrical equipment = not good) were  just right for there to be so many more.

That’s success.

(all photos by B. anc C. Willoughby)


Further reading on Oumou Sangaré:


NPR Music

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