“A superb debut”Froots, No.2 in 2011 Critics Poll album of the year ………..
Stellar Debut from Malian Afro-Pop Diva
Fatoumata Diawara is a singer and guitar player from Mali whose lilting voice, fluid guitar playing and effortless melodies recall her countrywoman Rokia Traore. Diawara’s voice is not quite as ethereal as Traore’s but her skills are nevertheless impressive, and her debut album Fatou is a rare gift of a record for fans of African pop, female vocalists and generally outstanding music.
Fatou kicks off with “Kanou”, a tune that in many ways encapsulates the aesthetic of the album. Buoyed by layers of acoustic guitars, percussion and a snaky bassline, Fatou’s voice hovers over it all, weaving a mesmerising melodic spell. Fatou sings primarily in Bambara, so Anglophone listeners will need to respond to the feelings, if not the exact meaning, conveyed by Fatou’s wavering, wistful, defiant voice. Happily, the singer possesses plenty of power, and the ability to convey a wide range of emotion.
That’s the good news. The even better news is that this opening track is no fluke: the rest of the album is just as strong. At 12 tracks, the album weights in at 42-plus minutes. Highlights include “Bissa”, with its beefy, percussive rhythm and impressive use of harmonics, as well as the downtempo “Wililé”, the longest song here and perhaps the most satisfying with its slow-burn pacing and harmony vocals. Picking standout tracks is a dicey business, though; this is a strong set of tunes and there’s not a dud in the bunch. If some, like “Sowa”, have an oddly familiar sound to them, well, the liveliness of both arrangement and performance keep the set consistently fresh.
If anything, the record is a touch too consistent. Ten of these 12 songs are between three and four minutes long; just about the time a groove gets established, the singer is already moving on to the next song. There are no long jams here, and nothing over five minutes, even though many of these tunes have that loping, hypnotic quality that could easily see them stretching out, Ali Farka Touré-style, into something truly transcendent.
This is a minor criticism: what matters more than what isn’t here is what is here, and what is here is great. “Kele” features some of Diawara’s most plaintive vocals and a trotting, stick-in-your-ear beat, while “Sonkolon” is just too darn pretty to listen to only once. All these songs are built around the twin pillars of Diawara’s voice and her dextrous guitar plucking, with varying degrees of underlying percussion, keyboards and bass. The sound is warm and organic: energetic without being grating, and sweet without being saccharine.
Fatou marks the debut of a powerful new voice on the international music scene. Fans of Oumou Sangare (for whom Fatou has sung backup), Rokia Traore or any of Afro-pop’s many crossover stars will find much to savor here. Fatou’s voice possesses a sweetness that belies its power and a grace that does nothing to detract from her verve. Plus she can play the guitar. Plus she has a terrific smile. Memo to the rest of the world: prepare to be smitten. ….pop matters…………………
Mali, a landlocked nation on the edge of the Sahara, is a musical superpower. One of the most prodigious talents to emerge from the country is Fatoumata Diawara, an actress and singer-songwriter whose debut album keeps gaining steam. Released in North America in 2012, it attracted renewed attention after Diawara appeared in the 2014 Oscar-nominated film “Timbuktu.” Singing in Bambara, Mali’s most widely spoken language, Diawara uses her sensuous voice to express elemental concerns—not only the romance common in Western music, but also themes of hunger, war, intolerance, women’s rights and treatment of orphans. In Bissa, she tells the story of a woman who refuses an arranged marriage and also has difficulty finding a good man; the video has the added component of scenes from Paris (where the artist now lives) and Mali. The juxtaposed images echo Clandestin, which focuses on how the attraction of Europe robs Mali of so many productive people. Sonkolon rails against the marginalization of children who cannot speak for themselves. As the album’s 12 stirring tracks demonstrate, a lone performer can sing not only for herself, but also give voice to those who need it most….Alan Tigay……………
Born in Cote d'Ivoire and raised in southern Mali, Fatoumata Diawara moved to France in her teens to pursue an acting career but found her calling later, when she took up the guitar and started writing songs. Singing in Wassoulou, her debut is quietly intense, simply surrounding you with its atmosphere.
In her teens, Fatoumata Diawara moved to France to pursue an acting career. She appeared in a handful of films and worked with a street theater troupe but really found her calling later, when she took up the guitar and started writing songs. Born in Cote d'Ivoire and raised in southern Mali, Diawara grew up hearing Wassoulou music, a song style that’s thought by some ethnomusiclogists to be one of the main pre-colonial ancestors of blues. The Wassoulou cultural area is now split between three countries, but it has a history that extends back centuries, and Diawara merges that long, traditional history with a modern, globalized sensibility on her debut album.
Diawara has honed her performing and recording craft through work with AfroCubism, Orchestre Poly-Rythmo, and Herbie Hancock, among others, so really the big step here is to recording her own songs with her own arrangements. She has a voice with a naturally sensual glide to it that sometimes reminds me a little of Sade. Unlike many of her peers, such as Oumou Sangaré, power is not really a part of her style– she keeps her singing even and steady to complement the hypnotic, cycling guitar parts of her arrangements. The album is quietly intense, rarely rising above the volume of ordinary conversation.
Diawara sings in her native Wassoulou language, but understanding the exact content of the songs isn’t necessary to enjoy them. There’s plenty of information in the melodies and rhythms, and inventive musicianship as well. Diawara locks in with the simmering funk backdrop of “Bissa” by playing harmonics on her guitar instead of full chords. The electric leads seem to float up out of the patterns; several times over the course of the album, I found myself caught up in a flowing solo that I didn’t even notice when it started. This is how the whole record works. There’s no fanfare, nothing is announced. It simply surrounds you with its atmosphere.
It is an ultimately beguiling album because of this. Even in its most demonstrative moments, such as the shivering lead guitar line that opens “Bakonoba”, it’s a record you can sink into and enjoy for its sonics as well as its songwriting. “Bakonoba” is among the songs with the strongest West African character, and that guitar is a big part of it– it’s reminiscent of the type of lead Malian guitarists Djelimady Tounkara or Kanté Manfila might have once laid down for the Rail Band. Otherwise, Diawara is one of a growing number of musicians working on a sort of pan-folk sound that incorporates influences from across a broad Afro-Western cultural spectrum. It’s an approach that may be a better fit for the “world music” label than any of the highly localized sounds that tag’s often applied to……Pitchfork……
The autumn leaves are falling, you go to work in the dark and return in the dark and the winter chill seems poised to enter our lives. Why not therefore get a final blast of summer before the permafrost descends by purchasing this vibrant feast of Malian music from the brilliant Fatoumata Diawara who recently stole the show on Jools Holland. Hailing from Southern Mali and singing in her native Wassoulou language, Diawara determined to make it as an actress in Paris but found that the draw of music proved a far stronger primal urge. The loss to the Thespian profession is music lovers massive gain since “Fatou” is a stunning record full of colour, verve, rhythm and excitement. It is one of the best African music LPs you will hear but it is also much more than that. The swirling melodic guitars of this record combined with the multilayered vocals show a real soul/funk sensibility at work combined with lyrics which we are told pulse with the concerns of social justice not least denouncing arranged marriage and female circumcision. What some might see as a language barrier in terms of lyrical understanding actually adds to the sheer beauty of the record since it makes for an entrancing backdrop and the musical force of the songs carries all in their wake.
The laid-back funky opener “Kanou” is a fine start with its hypnotic vocal and pulsating bass interwoven with gentle acoustic guitar lines which dance around the song like a summer breeze. The second song in is “Sowa” which is irresistible and hugely commercial, indeed it is surprising that Western singers are resisting the temptation to draw inspiration from this deep well. One song which might just be the “first amongst equals” in album of standouts is “Bakonoba” which David Byrne would have died to record in Talking Heads and which draws in music from across the Atlantic in terms of the intoxicating mix branded with the label AfroCubism. It is utterly infectious and the African guitar playing the best this side of Tinarwaren . The mood quietens for the sumptuous guitar ballad “Alama” which was such as show-stopper on Jools Holland where you can see the elegant Diawara in all her glory. Another song “Willie” also plays to the more tender side of Diawara and the sheer emotion and range of Fatoumata Diawara’s voice demonstrates a force of nature at work. The good old Daily Telegraph has described Diawara as “the most beguiling talent to hit the world music scene in some time”. On the evidence of the entirety of “Fatou” and songs such as the brilliant closer “Clandestin” we are seeing yet another music artist from Mali poised for world domination which would be just reward for one of 2011’s best albums……….By Red on Black ……….
This fine 2012 debut from Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara showcases her distinctive melodic voice singing her own songs in her native Bambara tongue with themes as serious as personal betrayal, the effect of wars in Africa, the plight of illegal African migrants in Europe, arranged marriage and female circumcision.
In addition to accompanying her own voice on simple acoustic guitar traditional western rock guitars, bass and drums are deployed alongside West African instruments like the kori, calabash and ngoni, so the result has a distinctive `world music’ sound.
Most of the album was recorded at Livingston Studios in London and produced by Diawara and Nick Gold, and the quality of the mix is superb.
The album’s main feature is Diawara’s melodic voice and it has some beautiful, poignant moments. However it somehow lacks that indefinable quality (which for example Salif Keita has in spades) which really sets your hair on fire. It also needs to be said that by the end of the album the tracks are starting to sound very much the same, with little variation in dynamics. But there’s no doubt about it: for a debut recording it’s pretty impressive and knocks the spots off most `popular’ music manufactured to feed the tastes of western audiences. Fatou is still young, an obviously talented natural singer and composer who seems - on the evidence of this collection - to have what it takes to develop into a significant force in world music. We should look forward to her follow-up album to see in which direction it grows.
The CD package is excellent with a 24-page booklet offering all the song lyrics in the original Bambara with translations in each case into French and English…..By The Guardian………..
This music plants the African landscape in your imagination and invites you to party in it. This is a lovely upbeat collection of exquisitely played guitar based songs.
She has a beautiful resonant voice with a tonal quality that matches her guitar, and with which she delivers strong melody embellished with intricate decoration - but with tasteful restraint.
I defy you to listen to it and not be humming the songs repeatedly afterwards…..
Joyful and reflective in equal measure, Fatou is a superb debut album by this hugely talented Paris-based Malian sensation. My album of the year for 2011, first impressions were confirmed when seeing her at London’s Jazz Cafe. Fatoumata Diawara is simply superb - soulful vocals, delicate and intricate guitar playing, backed up by rythmic percussion - the album has everything. From the beautiful, reflective tracks, Wilile and Clandestin, to the catchy dance tracks, Bakonoba and Bissa (single from the album), this album has something for everyone who loves African music. Highly recommended…..By DJ Red Snapper ………………….
There’s something timeless about the idea of the girl with a guitar: the sultry folk poet wowing the world with her music. Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell created the archetype and generations of artists from Tracy Chapman to Laura Marling have extended it. Now Fatou reinvents this potent image for a new time and a new continent – giving a distinctively African spin to the concept of the female singer-songwriter.Introducing a fresh new talent with a unique sound, a bagful of beautiful self-penned songs and a tumultuous life story behind her, Fatoumata Diawara’s debut album, ‘Fatou’, is released on World Circuit on September 19, 2011.Tall, superbly poised and elegant, with an iridescent smile, this sometime star of African film draws elements of jazz and funk into an exquisitely sparse contemporary folk sound – refracting the rocking rhythms and plaintive melodies of her ancestral Wassoulou tradition through an instinctive pop sensibility. At the centre of the music is Fatou’s warm, affecting voice, spare, rhythmical guitar playing and gorgeously melodic songs that draw powerfully on her own often troubled experience. Raised in Mali, now based in Paris, and still only 30, Fatou 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 theatre, before finding her feet in the medium she was always destined to make her own: music.‘Kanou’, the opener, typifies the album’s minimal, yet sensual feel, Fatou’s yearning vocal and hypnotic picking – transposed from Wassoulou harp patterns – offset by muted Rhodes piano. ‘Bissa’ underscores wry comment on a woman’s right to choose her marriage partner with a pared back funk grove, while ‘Boloco’ offsets Fatou’s heartfelt vocal on the hugely controversial subject of female circumcision with touches of exquisitely understated guitar and ngoni lute from talented young players Guimba and Moh Kouyate. The delightfully catchy ‘Sowa’ establishes a wonderfully percussive feel with just voice and acoustic guitar, the lyrics inspired by Fatou’s own painful experience of the African practice of giving children to be raised by others: ‘Before sending your children to suffer, look them in the eyes!’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 Fatou’s effortless musical charm, as her presence has lit up shows by Africa Express, AfroCubism and Hancock’s ‘Imagine’ project. Yet her debut is almost entirely her own work: self-composed and arranged, with her own backing vocals and percussion. It breathes with the natural warmth, confidence and spontaneity that are the essence of Fatou……..
The Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara (aka Fatou) was born in Africa in 1982. As a child she became a member of her father’s dance troupe and was a popular performer of the wildly flailing didadi dance from Wassoulou, her ancestral home in western Mali. She was an energetic and headstrong girl and at the age of twelve her refusal to go to school finally prompted her parents to send her to live and be disciplined by an aunt in Bamako. She was not to see her parents again for over a decade.
Her aunt was an actress, and a few years after arriving, Fatou found herself on a film set looking after her aunt’s infant child. The film’s director was captivated by Fatou’s adolescent beauty and she was given a one line part in the final scene of the film ‘Taafe Fangan’ (‘The Power of Women’). This led to her being given a lead role by the celebrated director Cheick Omar Sissoko in his 1999 film ‘La Genèse’ (Genesis).
At the age of eighteen Fatou travelled to Paris to perform the classical Greek role of Antigone on stage. After touring with the production she returned to Mali where she was given the lead in Dani Kouyaté’s 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 Mali, Guinea, Senegal and Burkina Faso, Fatou is Sia thanks to the film’s enormous success throughout the region. Offers for further acting roles poured in but Fatou’s family wanted her to settle down and marry and forced her to announce, live on Malian television, that she was abandoning her career as an actress.
In 2002 Jean-‐Louis Courcoult, 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 much soul searching Fatou took the daring decision to run away and at 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 Royal de Luxe Fatou performed a variety of roles around the world including tours in Vietnam, Mexico and throughout Europe. During rehearsals and quiet moments she took to singing backstage for her own amusement. She was overheard by the director and was soon singing solo during the company’s performances. Encouraged by the reception from audiences she began to sing in Parisian clubs and cafes during breaks from touring. Here she met Cheikh Tidiane Seck the celebrated Malian musician and producer who invited her to travel with him back 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. When the albums were released 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 Traore 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 own compositions.
She made the decision to dedicate herself to her passion, music. She worked to complete an album’s worth of songs and started recording demos for which she composed and arranged all the titles, as well as playing guitar, percussion, bass and singing lead and harmony vocals. An introduction from Oumou Sangaré resulted in a record deal with World Circuit and the recording of her debut album.
Between recording sessions she found time to collaborate on Damon Albarn’s Africa Express and contribute vocals to albums by Cheikh Lô, AfroCubism, Herbie Hancock’s GRAMMY winning Imagine Project and Orchestra Poly-‐Rythmo de Cotonou.
Fatou’s EP ‘Kanou’ was released on 9 May, followed by her debut full length album ‘Fatou’ on 19 September 2011 to much critical acclaim.
Following the release Fatoumata performed as part of Damon Albarn’s album and live project ‘Rocket Juice and the Moon’ (Honest Jon’s) which featured himself, Tony Allen and Flea. Fatou also featured Roberto Fonseca’s most recent release ‘YO’ and on Bobby Womack’s album ‘The Bravest Man In The Universe’ (XL) which was co-‐produced by Damon Albarn and Richard Russell.
The Malian woman Fatoumata Diawara (everyone calls her Fatou) was born in 1982. From childhood she danced in her father’s troupe; It met with great success by performing the extravagant dance didadi of Wassoulou, the country of its ancestors in West Mali. Of a very independent nature, at her adolescence she refuses to go to school and her parents decide to send her - it is an African tradition - to live with one of her aunts in Bamako. She will not see her father and mother for nearly ten years.
Some time after her arrival, Fatou finds herself on a movie set, taking care of her aunt’s baby, who is an actress. Seduced by his beauty, the director entrusts to him a reply in the Power of the women. This led Sheikh Omar Sissoko to entrust him with one of the main roles of his film Genesis in 1999. She plays alongside comedian Sotigui Kouyaté who becomes a reference in her career.
At the age of eighteen, Fatou went to Paris to play the theater in Antigone by Sophocles directed by Kouyaté. After filming with the troupe, she returned to Mali in 2001 for the shooting of Sia, a film in which she starred and told the story of a legendary female figure from West Africa. It has achieved phenomenal success in many countries; For many Malians, Guineans, Senegalese and Burkinabe, Fatou IS Sia. But despite the proposals of roles that flock, her family wants her to settle and get married … Fatou is then forced to announce on television that she abandons her acting career.
In 2002, the director of the Royal de Luxe company comes to Bamako to offer him a role in his new show. But in Mali a single woman does not have more rights than a minor, and permission to leave is denied by her family. After reflecting, Fatou decides to flee and manages to board a plane, narrowly avoiding the police who are kidnapped by his family for “kidnapping”.
With Royal de Luxe Fatou plays around the world. During rehearsals and moments of calm, she amuses herself in humming in the wings; On hearing it, the director soon made her sing during the shows. Encouraged by the reception of the public, she began between tours to perform in Parisian clubs. There she meets the Malian musician and producer Cheikh Tidiane Seck, who returns her to Mali to perform the choruses on the albums he produces for Oumou Sangaré (Seya) and Dee Dee Bridgewater (Red Earth). Fatou also participates in the tours.
On his return to France, pushed by Rokia Traoré who also encourages him to play guitar, Fatou plays the role of Karaba in the musical Kirikou and Karaba. She tells with a smile: A Malian girl with an acoustic guitar, it was a marvelous and audacious thing. Why should the guitar be reserved for men? Fatou learns the six strings self-taught and begins to write songs. This is where she understands that music is her true passion and that she decides to devote herself to it fully. She records models on which she sings and plays all the instruments. Oumou Sangaré presents it to the World Circuit label, the recording of her first album can begin … Her album Fatou was released in October 2011.
Between sessions of recordings and his first concerts, Fatou finds however, time to participate in the project Africa Express by Damon Albarn, not forgetting AfroCubism and the project Imagine of Herbie Hancock and the new album of Bobby Womack.
In January 2013 in response to the situation in Mali, Fatoumata Diawara brought together some forty renowned Malian musicians to record the song “Mali Ko”. Among others, Amadou & Mariam, Oumou Sangare, Bassekou Kouyate, Vieux Farka Touré, Toumani Diabaté, Khaira Arby, Kasse Mady Diabaté, Tiken Jah Fakoly, Habib Koité ..