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Diaraby Nene (cold obsession) by Oumou Sangaré

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By AlaSan Ceesay

Diaraby Nene is a poignant and deeply personal song, composed when Oumou Sangaré was just a teenager. It emerged from her first intimate experience with her first love, Gassama Jabbi. The song’s creation was a bold act, as she couldn’t officially perform or record it publicly for over two decades due to its explicit lyrics – a daring move in the context of the conservative Mandinka communities where discussing such themes is a big taboo.

In this emotionally charged piece, Sangaré begins with a plea for forgiveness from her parents, siblings, family, and the Wassulu griot community, acknowledging the controversial nature of her words. The lyrics speak of a sensation she names “Diaraby Nene,” a term in her Mandinka dialect that translates to “cold obsession.” This intriguing feeling, she describes, is incomparable to any physical coldness, like that of the weather (samiya nene), climate (fonene nene) or rain (sanji nene) but can only be described as shivering coldness or detached fascination. It’s a feeling so profound and exhilarating, yet one she recognises as bothering and dangerous, given the societal constraints that forbid her from freely experiencing such love, intimacy, and passion.

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The latter half of the song delves into the details of this defining encounter. It narrates the moment she chooses to embrace her fate (Ne wulila don min, Jon bee n’i dakan). To each person, their own destiny, leading to a night of profound connection and exploration of love, intimacy, and desire with Mr Gassama. A moment she decided to accept her destiny in recognising her genuine love in body, spirit, and essence. Without a word spoken, their understanding and emotions are conveyed through their intimate actions. The song reaches its denouement with Sangaré leaving at dawn after a night full of unregrettable passion and sensual intimacy, whispering tender parting words to her lover: “Aa! dennin! k’an ben sogoma!,” meaning “my love, I will see you another time.” “Diaraby Nene” is such a daring, powerful, and sensual song that even the world’s most powerful musicians, Jay Z and Beyoncé, had to remix and feature it in their song, “Mood 4 Eva,”.

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In the gentle embrace of melody, Oumou’s  Diaraby Nene” blooms like a moonflower in the quiet Mali night. This song, a tender whisper of the heart, starts with a chorus that cradles the ache of parting. Her voice, soft yet laden with emotion, murmurs to her lover, “oh baby, I will see you tomorrow.” But in this goodbye, there’s a whisper of something more, a hesitation, as she adds, “babes wait, these intruding, intimate thoughts are very bothering.” Her song then rises, a wave of feeling, saying, “oh God, oh life, what a feeling; Aa! dennin! k’an ben sogoma! N jarabi, n makono yan! dennin! miiri man ni! Nnn! nene man ni! Nnn! Ala! Ee nene man ni dunuya (la)!”

As the melody weaves through the stillness, Oumou’s courage unfolds, blossoming under the starlit sky. She shares her deepest, most unbelievable desires, first with those close to her, then, as if speaking to the night itself, with the world. This heart’s journey begins with a respectful bow to her family, seeking forgiveness from her parents and siblings. She then turns to her Wassulu ‘Jali’ community, her voice a tapestry of defiance and respect, ready to break the age-old chains of tradition and culture. Her lyrics are a bold declaration of a love and an intimate moment so deep, so unthinkable in Mandinka society:

“Nko n barokenogonlu ko nene man ni! Ala. Ne wolofa berelu! alu ka solo to n ye. Ne woloba berelu! n bolo be solo no, Ala. Ala, donkili jelilu! alu ka yafa ne ma.”

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The heart of “Jarrabi Nene” then takes us deeper into that night of passion. Oumou clarifies that this is not a chill from the coldness of rain or winter. This is a different kind of chill, a shivering born out of love, obsession, and desire for someone truly special. She paints this picture with her words:

“Ne mana fo nene, sanji nene ko te! Ne mana fo nene, fonene nene ko te! Ala! Ne mana fo nene, samiya nene te diya! Ne mana fo nene, jarabi nene don! Ne kunfonogonw, deli man ni! Jarabi man ni, ayi m’a lon, nene man ni! N jarabi! n makono yan! dennin! miiri man ni! N jarabi! n makono yan! dennin! nene man ni! Nnn! nene man ni! Aa! dennin! k’an ben sogoma! Aa! dennin! k’an ben sogoma!”

Carrying forward the song, already a tapestry of deep emotions, unfolds further to reveal the intimate details of a night that forever changed her.

Sangaré sings, “Ne wulila lon min! Ala! Jon bee n’i dakan.” These words paint a picture of a young woman, awakened by the fire of her own heart, a determination to seize her desire. She describes how she found herself at her lover’s door, gently knocking, stepping into a world where words are unnecessary. The song captures this moment with vivid emotion: without a word, her lover welcomes her, their connection speaking through the language of touch, of glances.

In the sanctuary of her lover’s arms, Oumou recounts their journey of discovery. “Nka taa la bon na O ma se kuma na N jarabi ya bon na A ma se kuma la N ka sen la a sen kan, Ala A sen bee sumalen…” she sings, narrating how they explored each other, not just physically, but soulfully. Each touch, each gaze, was a conversation, a dance of passion and love. In this space, time stood still, and the world outside faded away.

As the night reached its crescendo, Oumou and her lover found themselves in a moment of complete union.

“Ne fari bee sumana N jarabi bolo kan! Ala! Ne fari bee sumana N ka na n bolo da a disi la A disi b?? sumana N jarabi disi kan! Ala N ko disi bee sumalen…”

These lyrics express a feeling of ecstasy, a merging of two souls into one. Sangaré’s voice, rich with emotion, tells of a love so profound, so intense, it bordered on the divine.

As dawn approached, Sangaré knew it was time to leave. Yet, the parting was not just a physical separation but a promise of an eternal bond.

“Aa dennin k’an ben sogoma! Aa dennin k’an ben sogoma! Aa dennin k’an ben sogoma!…” she sings, her words a tender vow to meet again, a reassurance that their love was more than just a fleeting moment.

In this song, Oumou Sangaré doesn’t just share her story; she invites us into her world, a world where love defies conventions and barriers. “Diaraby Nènè” is a brave expression, a challenge to societal norms and a call to embrace love in its purest form. It’s a testament to the power of love, a reminder that true passion knows no bounds. Oumou, through her music, becomes more than just an artist; she is a voice for the unspoken, a beacon for those seeking to express their deepest desires. Her contribution to world music, her courage to share her story, cements her legacy as a rare gem, a legend whose voice echoes across the world, inspiring and empowering. “Diaraby Nene” stands as a timeless ode to love, passion, and the strength to follow one’s heart.

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