From the streets of Bamako, where her youthful serenades kept her family afloat after her father abandoned them, to a triumphant, multi-faceted career as a women's rights activist, UN goodwill ambassador and entrepreneur, Oumou Sangaré has lived a life worthy of a biopic or two. "The Songbird of Wassoulou"'s three-decade career has seen her scandalise conservative Malian society with her unabashedly feminist leanings, collaborate with artists as varied as P!nk and Tony Allen, and win more prizes than you could shake her trademark calabash at. The fact she's also a world-class performer almost seems to pale in comparison with her other achievements, but nevertheless it's something we're all pretty grateful for tonight.
Interviews with Ms Sangaré strongly suggest she's someone who prefers to look to the future then rest on her laurels, and as such, it's not surprising that most of tonight's performance draws upon Mogoya, her first album in five years. Whilst her core modus operandi remains unchanged - West African rhythms, a sprinkle of Western rock influences, and her inimitably versatile and potent voice - there's a funkier, more forthright edge to the new material that the extended live versions fully expand upon. As ever, the traditional kamele ngoni ("young man's harp") lies at the heart of everything, performed by the spirited Aboud Dialli, but Guimba Kouyate's righteous shreddage, Jonathan Grandcamp's scintillating percussion and Kandy Guira and Emma Lamadji's passionate harmonies all play their invaluable part.
Her lyrics, sung in French-accented Bambara, have never shied away from tackling social issues, from polygamy to suicide, and Mogoya is no different. "Minata Waraba" is an ode to long-suffering mothers, whilst the lively "Kamelemba" wisely warns women to give vain men a wide berth. But even if you don't understand a word, Ms Sangare's charismatic, dignified stage presence conveys her message better than language ever could.
Yet despite the effervescence of the performance, there's a problem - at least at first. The Roundhouse has been reconfigured into an all-seated venue as part of their In The Round series, which would usually be a positive. But this is music that demands to be danced to - and London audiences by nature would rather down a pint of rat piss than start shaking their booties on their own prerogative, especially at a sit-down show. As such, the first half of the night, whilst enchanting, felt more like a classical recital than the vibrant celebration it should have been.
Happily, effortlessly working an audience is one of Ms Sangaré's many diverse talents, and it takes surprisingly little cajoling midway through the set to get everyone off their seats and groove with, if not quite rhythm, then at least enthusiasm. From that point onwards, the show's energy rarely flags, and by the time we reach the sprawling afro-funk odyssey of "Yala", the atmosphere in that old Camden trainshed is truly electric, with Dialli bouncing around the stage with the energy of a Duracell bunny. It may not have been the ideal venue for her, but the Songbird of Wassoulou soared regardless.