Extending Mali's rich musical tradition, Fatoumata Diawara presents a joyous mix of the vibrant and understated, combining songs about love, politics, and empowerment. With arresting melodies soaring over intricate guitar and drum arrangements, and inspired by the Wassoulou tradition, jazz, and blues, Fatoumata Diawara has created her own contemporary folk sound, with a distinctly African spin on the female singer-songwriter.
At the center of the music is Diawara's warm, affecting voice; spare, rhythmical guitar playing; and gorgeously melodic songs that draw powerfully on her own experience. Born in Côte d'Ivoire, raised in Mali, now based in Paris, Diawara has had a life covering a whole gamut of contemporary African experience: fighting parental opposition to her artistic ambitions and the cultural prejudice faced by women throughout Africa, winning success as an actress in film and theater, before entering the medium she was always destined to make her own: music.
Damon Albarn, Toumani Diabaté, Herbie Hancock, and Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones are just a few of the major players who have fallen for Diawara's effortless musical charm, as her presence has lit up shows in Europe by Africa Express, AfroCubism, and Hancock's Imagine project. Yet her debut, released on Nonesuch Records in 2012, is almost entirely her own work: self-composed and arranged, with her own backing vocals and percussion.
Fatoumata Diawara (aka Fatou) was born of Malian parents in the Ivory Coast in 1982. As a child she became a member of her father's dance troupe and was a popular performer of the ancestral Wassoulou dance from her home in western Mali.
Discovered by an African filmmaker, Fatou quickly gained a lead role in a film by the celebrated director Cheick Omar Sissoko. At the age of eighteen, Fatou travelled to Paris to perform the classical Greek role of Antigone on stage. After touring the production, she returned to Mali, where she was given the lead in Dani Kouyaté's enormously popular 2001 film Sia, The Dream of the Python. The film tells the story of a West African legend called Sia, a young girl who defies tradition. To many in West Africa, Fatou is Sia, thanks to the film's success.
Offers for further acting roles poured in but Fatou's family wanted her to settle down and marry. The family forced her to announce, live on Malian television, that she was abandoning her acting career. In 2002 the director of the renowned French theatre company, Royale de Luxe, travelled to Bamako to offer Fatou a part in his new production. An unmarried woman is considered a minor in Malian society so her family's permission was required. They refused. After soul-searching, Fatou made the daring decision to run away. At the Bamako Airport she managed to board a plane for Paris, narrowly escaping the pursuit of the police who had been alerted to the girl's "kidnapping."
With Royale de Luxe, Fatou performed a variety of roles around the world. During rehearsals she took to singing backstage for her own amusement. She was overheard by the director and was soon singing solo during performances. Encouraged by the reception from audiences, she began to sing in Parisian clubs and cafes. Here she met Cheikh Tidiane Seck, the celebrated Malian musician and producer who invited her to travel with him to Mali to work on two projects as chorus vocalist; Seya, the Grammy-nominated album by Mali's star Oumou Sangaré; and Red Earth, the Grammy-winning Malian project by American jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater. Fatou toured worldwide as singer and dancer with both projects.
On her return to France, Fatou took the role of Karaba in the popular touring musical Kirikou and Karaba. She was encouraged to take the role by her friend Rokia Traoré, who also inspired her to take up the guitar: "To me it was a wonderful and daring thing: a Malian girl with an acoustic guitar. Why should the guitar be only for men?" Fatou bought herself a guitar and started to teach herself, and at the same time began to write down her compositions.
She made the decision to dedicate herself to her passion: music. She worked to complete an album's worth of songs for which she composed and arranged all the titles, as well as playing guitar, percussion, and bass, and singing lead and harmony vocals. Since the release of the highly acclaimed debut Fatou (2011) Fatoumata has toured globally with her band.
Hear Fatoumata Tuesday the 15th on KPOO Radio, 89.5FM, between 4pm - 6pm, For the People.
April 18, 2014
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