sun 22/05/2022

CD: Fatoumata Diawara - Fatou | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Fatoumata Diawara - Fatou

CD: Fatoumata Diawara - Fatou

A sublime and quietly rebellious debut from the Malian singer-songwriter

Malian singer-songwriter Fatoumata Diawara produces guitar riffs that are like quiet musical mantras from which songs seem to blossom like exquisite orchids. Or at least that’s the effect achieved by a combination of the songs themselves and the exquisitely understated arrangements which one can imagine were a pleasure for Diawara to work on with regular World Circuit producer Nick Gold.

Comparisons have already been made between the Côte d’Ivoire-born 29-year-old and the Malian legendary diva she has sung backing vocals for, Oumou Sangare (who Diawara pays tribute to here with “Makoun Oumou”), but in some ways they’re quite different. Sangare paints on as big and involved a canvas as possible, whereas Diawara’s songs are more personal and intimate. I loved Sangare’s last album (also produced by Gold) but there’s something about the subtle minimalism, deceptively simple arrangements and desire to produce something fresh out of the fertile soil of Malian roots music that makes another Malian singer-songwriter, Rokia Traore, a more appropriate comparison.

Singing in the Wassoulou language, Diawara’s smooth yet sometimes frayed-at-the-edges voice sits against percussion-centred grooves built from that circling guitar, shaker, calabash (with the occasional addition of kit drum when the pace picks up), and there’s even a cool doodle of Rhodes piano on opening number “Kanou”. Songs on everything from the abandonment of children by their mothers to the pointlessness of war point to an overriding theme of the liberation of women from a culture that’s oppressed and abused them for hundreds of years. It’s a brave woman who publicly brings up the subject of female circumcision (why do we still use this polite clinical euphemism for what is in fact radical genital mutilation?) but Diawara – like Sangare before her - does just that on the slow bluesy lament “Boloko”. This is a beautiful and vital debut album that’s all the more powerful for whispering, not shouting, its message.

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