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Mali’s Music

History: Wassoulou music is genre of West African popular music, named after the region of Wassoulou. After the 1980’s, support from the Malian government declined along with praise-singing. The region of Wassoulou became the center for the new danceable music of wassoulou.

Themes:  The modern form of wassoulou is a combination of hunter’s songs with sogoninkun, a type of masked dance, and the music is based on the kamalengoni harp, which was invented in the 1950s. It is also performed by women, with lyrics that address women’s issues like childbearing, fertility, and polygamy.

Instruments: Soku, which is a fiddle, a diembe drum, kamalen n’gonl, which is a six string harp, karinyan, which is a metal tube percussion, and a bolon, which is a four stringed harp. The vocals are passionate, and in a call, and than response form from others.

Wassoulou music is dominantly performed by women, such as Oumou Sangare, Kagbe Sidlibe, and Sali Sidibe.


Oumou Sangare was the first wassoulou star and achieved fame with her release in 1989 Moussoulou, both within Mali and internationally. In her songs, she speaks about her fellow Malian women; exploring their problems and telling their desires. Her outspokenness in her lyrics is what liberates her music, which is a combination of traditional instruments and rhythms with a sophisticated, funk driven, groove.


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