Africa & Middle East
Seven long years after Fatoumata Diawara’s debut album announced her as one of the brightest new stars of African music, the Malian singer-songwriter finally ended the long wait for a follow-up in 2018 with Fenfo. In the intervening years she toured the world, played Glastonbury and climbed aboard Damon Albarn’s star-studded Africa Express – excursions that only heightened our desire for some new music from her. Fenfo – which translates as ‘Something to Say’ – proved to be more than worth the wait and a magnificent return. It is rooted in Bamana tradition but given a thrillingly contemporary edge courtesy of French producer and key collaborator Matthieu ‘M’ Chedid (whose own Lamomali album in 2017 featured Diawara on vocals). Electric guitars combine with kora and kamalengoni as Diawara’s sinuous voice ranges across funk, Afro-pop, hypnotic tribal grooves and a haunting acoustic vibe on ‘Don Do’, on which her voice floats with glorious intimacy over Vincent Segal’s resonant cello. Her voice is more expressive and nuanced than it was seven years ago, while the lyrics suggest that she’s got a lot to say too – not least about how to build a better world for our children. The comeback of the year.