Posts Tagged ‘fatoumata diawara’

Voices of Africa

Posted on April 5th, 2017 in Features, Recent posts by .


The cover of the May 2017 issue of Songlines (#127) is graced by Oumou Sangaré, the Malian superstar who has returned with her first album in eight years and speaks to Pierre Cuny about returning to the recording studio and the themes that inspire her songs. To celebrate the latest issue, we’ve produced this special online focus featuring interviews with just a few of the most exciting African female singers today – including Lura (pictured) – drawn from the Songlines archive, which you can explore below…



Alexandra Petropoulos speaks to Gambian kora player and singer Sona Jobarteh about the musical journey that has taken her through traditional griot music and Western classical performance, and how it led to the creation of her country’s first school dedicated to Mande music. (Photo by Mateusz Bral)

Sona Jobarteh: Modern Griot



The Cape Verdean singer Lura talks to Daniel Brown about her heritage, Cesaria’s legacy and why she’s a responsible rebel. (Photo by N’Krumah Lawson-Daku)

Lura: Cape Verde’s First Lady



From Adam and Eve to empowering women across the world – there’s not much that Angélique Kidjo doesn’t have an opinion about. Jane Cornwell meets to the irrepressible singer

Angélique Kidjo: the indomitable spirit of Africa



Nigel Williamson speaks to the Malian singer about her career, which has been dedicated to offering African women a voice and correcting gender inequalities

Oumou Sangaré: a beginner’s guide



Fatoumata Diawara is the latest rising Malian singing star. She chats to Rose Skelton and explains about how she found her voice. (Photo by Youri Lenquette)

Fatoumata Diawara: “my voice was my first companion”



Robin Denselow speaks to singer Noura Mint Seymali about how she’s helping Mauritanian music to evolve, and introducing international audiences to its rich tradition

Noura Mint Seymali: the modern voice of Mauritania



The bright star rising from West Africa in the form of Noura Mint Seymali is just one of the continent’s long and impressive list of women singers. Nigel Williamson picks ten favourite albums

Songlines Essential 10: African Queens

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Fatoumata Diawara: “my voice was my first companion”

Posted on February 27th, 2017 in Features, Recent posts by .


Fatoumata Diawara is the latest rising Malian singing star. She chats to Rose Skelton and explains about how she found her voice. Photograph by Youri Lenquette

“My life is quite strange… yes,” trails off Fatoumata Diawara, looking quizzically across the airwaves. “I’m only 29 but sometimes I feel like I’m 50. I started to speak out early, I wanted to say something, to express myself through dance. I had so much energy,” she laughs, “I think I had it from birth.”

Fatou, once a vocalist for Mali’s most famous female singer Oumou Sangaré, and the latest signing by World Circuit, and I are ‘meeting’ via webcam, each of us in our respective adoptive homes: Paris (hers) and Dakar (mine). Over a rare, unbroken and crystal clear connection, I have a live feed into her living room. From there this singer, guitarist and favoured actress of West African film-makers, reaches into a difficult life and tells me what it is that fuels her extraordinary voice and soulful music.

“I was born in Ivory Coast,” she says, of Malian parents, and explains that during the few years that she spent there as a child she didn’t sing but instead danced. “I danced all the time, everywhere, I couldn’t hold back, I danced in the street, I was always very excited.” But, she says, when she started refusing to go to school, her father sent her to live with an aunt in Bamako. “He loved me too much,” is the only thing she can say about this event that changed her whole life, her voice tinged with sadness.

It’s taken us a while to get to these facts because Fatou seems determined to talk only of positive things and I’m reluctant to darken the mood. “I don’t want to complain,” she says often, “I prefer to talk about the music because that’s the positive side of things.” But finally we get to her childhood and how it was for her to be sent so far away from her parents at such a young age. “I stopped dancing. But instead of crying, every year of my life which passed, when I couldn’t dance, I sang instead. That’s how my voice came, I needed to express myself somehow.”

Fatou has an extraordinary voice, an alluring mixture of something old and something contemporary. On ‘Alama’, an acoustic track on her debut album Fatou, her phrases are long and varied and the melody dances around, as if she’s talking, not singing. Every word has depth, warmth and expression, as if it were meant just for you. She resembles both the great Wassoulou singers of south-west Mali and, charge it up a bit, she could have stepped right off a stage in London or New York.

“Sometimes people think that I am rapping,” she says of her singing style. “It’s because I use the rhythms of my village where we sing a lot with percussion.” The base of her music is a high-energy rhythm called didadee which everyone from the Wassoulou region can understand. “It’s our musical base, and it’s very funky,” she says, explaining that Wassoulou music is built on rhythm and underpinned by a funk-driven bassline. Ethnomusicologists believe that this was one possible origin of modern American blues and this explains perhaps how Malian music has become so popular in the West.

But Fatou, despite her years in Paris and her influences of rock, reggae, funk and soul, is very much a woman of Wassoulou. “I can sing in a French style or a bit in English but the music that comes from me when I improvise, when I’m not trying to have an identity, is Wassoulou music. That’s what’s in my heart, that’s what I breathe, it’s my mother, my friend, it is everywhere in me, in my blood.”

Unknown to her father, sending Fatou to stay with her aunt in Bamako was a case of ‘out of the frying pan, into the fire.’ Her aunt was an actress and one of the few female comedians in a country where the role of women is – even today – very much at home. Through her aunt, Fatou got her first cinema role at the age of 14 and after that her screen career took off. She travelled all over Africa working in film and theatre roles, and at 18 she went to Paris to play Antigone on stage. But she still hadn’t seen her parents since the day she left Ivory Coast and this weighed heavily on her. Singing was the only thing that comforted her.

“So that I wouldn’t cry, I would sing to clean my soul. My voice was my first companion,” she says. “Even today, if I don’t have friends around me, when I sing, it feels like I’m communicating with someone next to me. The voice is always something that protected me; when I sang it sparked something positive, it told me, don’t worry, life goes on.”

Fatou’s family wanted her to marry and at the age of 20, forced her to announce she was giving up acting. When a French theatre producer offered her a role in Paris, they refused to give her the permission she needed, and so she ran away, boarding a plane to France and a new life. She spent the next few years travelling the world playing theatre roles, her voice the thing which helped pick her up when she was down. It was only fairly recently that she decided to start singing professionally.

There is one comparison that anyone who’s heard any Malian music will naturally want to make, and as we talk, it’s very hard for me not to make it too. But Fatou, graceful as ever, saves me by bringing it up herself.

“People say my voice is like Oumou’s [Sangaré] because we speak the same language when we sing, and it’s the same rhythm and tone.” Oumou and Fatou are both from the Wassoulou region but from different villages, and so while they speak the same musical language, there are subtle differences in their singing that only natives of the region can decipher. Through the Malian producer and musician Cheikh Tidiane Seck, Fatou met and worked with Oumou on Seya, her last album [a Top of the World review in #58], and toured with her for a year and a half. How was it, I wonder, for two such indomitable spirits and powerful voices to work side by side?

“Oumou knew I was a lead singer because I did a lot of (solo) concerts even when I was working with her, so she knew this was a transition period for me. But we made the most of it, even if we knew that I wouldn’t stay too long with her. We talked a lot, she told me about the path she has to follow as a woman, that it’s not easy being a woman, you have to be very strong to suffer, accept things and take certain decisions. It was a very big experience to work with her.”

Oumou Sangaré is famously one of Mali’s most successful entrepreneurs, involved in the hotel and transport business and one of Africa’s loudest voices defending women’s rights. It’s easy to see how she and Fatou get along. To become a singer in her own right, Fatou not only had to run away from her family and defy her traditions, but she had to choose to make her way entirely alone, even once she got to Paris.

“My path was different,” she says defiantly, smiling. “I am not a griotte [hereditary praise singer] but I decided to be a composer, writer, singer, arranger, do everything myself.” She got fed up with having to depend on men for her compositions; they would tell her they would write the music for her songs, but then she would become their singer. Eventually, she decided to go it alone.

“No man tells me I should do this or do that, I did not want anyone to help me.” Her guitar style is simple but honest, a basic expression of a young woman doing it for herself. Still only 29, composed, brave, determined in person and full of expression behind the microphone, it’s hard not to try and imagine what this woman will become in the future.

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Win one of five pairs of tickets to Songhoy Blues at the Roundhouse

Posted on March 4th, 2016 in Live, News, Recent posts by .

Songhoy Blues

Join us for a celebration of Malian music and beyond on May 21, when Songhoy Blues and special guest Fatoumata Diawara will take to the stage at London’s iconic Roundhouse.

It has been a monumental rise for Malian quartet Songhoy Blues – from the raucous, defiant atmosphere of Bamako’s club circuit, to this, their biggest ever UK headline show.

Their appearance on 2013’s Maison des Jeunes album as part of the Africa Express collective was where the group’s ‘beefed-up’ Ali Farka Touré-esque riffs and an anthemic chunky desert-blues groove first caught the Western ear. Yet their documented ascent in Johanna Schwartz’s They Will Have to Kill Us First film and 2015 debut album Mali in Exile also highlighted the band’s intelligent, non-partisan view of Mali’s ongoing problems and the mission they were on – a desire for reconciliation.

We have five pairs of tickets to give away to the concert. Simply fill in the form below, or click here to enter.

Visit to find out more.


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‘Timbuktu’ soundtrack featuring Fatoumata Diawara & Amine Bouhafa

Posted on May 1st, 2015 in News, Recent posts by .


Composed by Fatoumata Diawara & Amine Bouhafa, ‘Timbuktu Fasso’ features on the soundtrack to Abderrahmane Sissako’s Oscar-nominated Timbuktu

In the new issue (June #108) Yoram Allon speaks to the Mauritanian filmmaker about the place of music in the film (below is an extract from the issue feature).

Nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2015 Academy Awards and the recipient of numerous international accolades, Timbuktu presents a place ruled by religion, and a people traumatised by division.

In the film’s most heart-breaking scene, Fatoumata Diawara, an accomplished actress in her own right, plays an intensely powerful cameo as ‘la chanteuse’, a local young woman who is publicly flogged after being caught during an innocent evening with friend simply singing and playing music.

The music in Timbuktu is not exclusively Malian, or even West African, in origin, but is added to by sounds from Arabic-influenced North Africa and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. Sissako explains that a certain amount of commercial necessity lay in these decisions. “Although this is clearly a specifically Malian story, we needed to find ways of connecting with a wider international audience so that it could travel and be seen as a more universal cautionary, tragic tale.”

Timbuktu is released by Artificial Eye on May 29. Read our review and feature in the new issue.

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