Oumou Sangare was born in 1968 in Bamako, the capital of Mali, her family, though, was from Wassoulou, in the southwestern region of Mali. Sangare is the leading female star of the Wassoulou sound which is based on an ancient tradition of hunting rituals mixed with songs about devotion, praise, and harvest played with pentatonic (five-note) melodies. Wassoulou is typified by a strong Arabic feel along with the sound of the scraping karinyang, women play the fle, a calabash strung with cowrie shells, which they spin and throw into the air in time to the music.
Sangare most often sings about about love and the importance of freedom of choice in marriage, an issue she feels strongly about because her father had two wives which Sangare thought was a "catastrophe." In 1986, the eighteen-year-old Sangare toured Europe and the Caribbean with a 27-piece folkloric troupe, and at 21 she already had a huge hit in the album, Moussoulou (means "women") which sold over 200,00 legal copies and many more in the illegal pirate cassette trade. In 1995 she toured around the world on the Africa Fete tour along with Baaba Maal, Boukman Eksperyans, and Femi Kuti.