“She looks like sunshine!” I heard a young woman say as Awa Sangho graced the stage at the Elebash Recital Hall in New York City. She did look like sunshine, the description was apt. Dressed in bright colours and a long, flowing yellow scarf, her appearance was a respite from the cold, snow-covered streets.
Moments before, as I waited for Sangho to grace the stage, I watched her “Ala Ta” music video again on my iPhone. I’m not sure why I did this because I’ve seen her perform quite a few times, including one time in concert with Vieux Farka Touré and Idan Raichel. Nevertheless, I was still as eager to see her performance.
Known as the “golden voice of Mali”, the legendary singer wasted little time in letting the audience know why she has that moniker. She sang songs that were socially and politically conscious, dealing with an array of topics from female genital mutilation, women’s rights, Nelson Mandela and racism. She made it a point to mention the futility of racism since we all bleed red. She also sang of death and personal loss and talked about the loss of her younger brother.
This doesn’t mean that the concert was sombre and morose – far from it. This was a high energy affair full of dancing and percussion. When not using her sublime voice, Sangho danced and played a few percussion instruments, including a calabash.
Sangho’s bubbly personality shone through the entire evening and we basked in its warm glow. After every song, she would pause and ask how we were feeling. She complemented the audience on how well we sang along and urged us to dance if they wanted to. Quite a few people took her up on that offer and danced along the side aisles of the venue, while the more reserved folks moved and shimmied in their seats. Sangho clearly wanted an engaged audience and that’s what she got.
The entire backing band was phenomenal, but Yacouba Sissoko on the kora was superb. Sissoko is no stranger to anyone who regularly attends concerts by West African musicians in New York who have a kora player in the band. He has established himself as one of the premier kora players and he’s always in demand. He played beautifully and he was truly an asset for the evening.
As if the enchanting vocal talents of Awa Sangho weren’t enough, she was joined on stage by some equally talented friends towards the end of the show. One of her friends was the great Guinean singer, Lama Sidibe, who you wouldn’t be able to miss in a room even if you tried. He was oozing charisma and swagger.
Dressed in a custom-made boubou bearing his name and a classic kufi, Sidibe took to the stage looking and sounding absolutely regal and he commanded the stage for the short duration he was up there. His booming voice echoed and reverberated in the venue. Those who were not familiar with Sidibe prior to the evening surely know now who he is. There is no mistaking it.
All in all, the show was wonderful. It couldn’t have been any better and Lama Sidibe was ‘the icing on top of the cake’, as they say. Make it a point to see Awa Sangho if she comes to your town. I wouldn’t miss her for anything.
Awa Sangho’s album titled “Ala Ta” is available now on Motema Music.