Hailed as one of the most vital standard-bearers of modern African music, Fatoumata Diawara takes her artistry to fresh and thrilling heights on her new album ‘FENFO’ (2018). Boldly experimental yet respectful of her roots, it’s a record that defines her as the voice of young African womanhood – proud of her heritage but with a vision that looks confidently to the future and a message that is universal.
Her spectacular 2011 debut album ‘Fatou’ made the Malian singer and guitarist the most talked about new African artist on the planet. ‘FENFO’ (which translates as “something to Say”’) dramatically fulfills that promise on a set of vivid and original new compositions that draw on the rich experiences she has enjoyed since.
Those she has worked with include some of the biggest names in contemporary music. She recorded with Bobby Womack and Herbie Hancock; played Glastonbury and other major festivals; and toured with the Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca. She assembled a West African super-group featuring Amadou and Mariam, Oumou Sangaré and Toumani Diabaté to record a song calling for peace in her troubled homeland; and climbed aboard Damon Albarn’s star-studded Africa Express, which culminated in her sharing a stage with Sir Paul McCartney.
She has also continued her parallel career as an actor, including an acclaimed appearance in 2014’s Timbuktu (Le chagrin des oiseaux), which received both BAFTA and Academy Award nominations.
More recently she shared the stage at New York’s legendary Carnegie Hall with the likes of David Crosby and Snarky Puppy in an evening of topical protest songs. She has also worked courageously as a social activist, campaigning against the trafficking and sale of black migrants in Libyan slave markets.
One of 11 children born to Malian parents in Ivory Coast in 1982, she grew up in the 1990s in the Malian capital Bamako. Fiercely independent from a young age, she became a celebrated child actor and in 2001 starred in Dani Kouyaté’s film ‘Sia, The Dream of the Python’, based on an ancient myth about a young girl who runs away from her family.
Real life followed fiction, and against the wishes of her parents who wanted her to marry, she fled Bamako at the age of 19 to join the French street theatre company Royale de Luxe, narrowly escaping the pursuit of the police who had been told she was being ‘kidnapped’.
Touring the world with Royal de Luxe, her singing became a feature of the company’s performances. Encouraged by the favourable reception, she then began singing in the clubs and cafes of Paris.
That in turn led to her backing the American jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater and the Malian superstar Oumou Sangaré on tour and on record and brought her to the attention of the World Circuit label, which released her acclaimed debut album in 2011.