"Seya," the title track from Oumou Sangare's recent album, is a Malian squealer. "Seya" translates to "joy," and its lyrics include the brief line I like to look good. This is not the main focus of the album—one that hinges on the rights, independence and autonomy of women—and it's not even the seeing part of "look good" that exemplifies Sangare, but the blunt force of harsh aesthetics. Though much of Seya's songs are flanked by Malian instruments, prickly strings, handdrums and wiry flutes, they almost entirely sit as basic accoutrements to Oumou and her chanting back ups, cutting hoarse fire. "Seya"'s tone is much chirpier than the rest of the album's, and maybe it is a hopeful tone, one to look forward to with Sangare, but the meditative, often grim anthems of her choruses are the best incantatory hook. Not that bad times are anything to aspire to, but "Sukunyali," the album's second track and an "homage to Soninké emigrants, who are working abroad so they can help to build their home country," is maybe the album's strongest moment, replacing joy with strength. That track is streaming on her MySpace page if you want to see if you agree.
Download: Oumou Sangare, "Seya"