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’. 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’ was hailed by Pitchfork as a “beguiling album” that “simply surrounds you with its atmosphere”, The Guardian described it as “spellbinding” and Gilles Peterson declared Fatoumata to be “one of the most exciting talents I’ve heard in a long time” making the Malian singer, songwriter, guitarist and acclaimed actress the most talked about new African artist of recent years. ‘Fenfo’, which translates as “something to say”, dramatically fulfils that promise on a set of vivid and original new compositions that draw on the rich experiences she has enjoyed since. “I’ve had so many different musical adventures since the last album, touring and working with so many other musicians and I think you can hear how all of that feeds into this record,” she says. “This is my time and I’m sharing my soul.”
Like her debut, which crossed over to feature prominently in the ‘Albums of the Year’ lists in the mainstream rock press ‘Fenfo’ is an album that has no borders. The modernity of stinging electric guitar lines combine with the ancient African strings of the kora and kamel ngoni and kit drums combine with the timeless rhythms of traditional percussion. Fatou’s African musicians, such as Pascal Danaë on electric and acoustic guitars and Etienne Mbappe on bass, are joined by key collaborators including the celebrated Malian kora player Sidiki Diabaté, alongside French auteur Matthieu Chedid – who plays guitar and organ in addition to co-producing – and the brilliant cellist Vincent Ségal, whose elegant playing graces two tracks. Chedid, a superstar in his native France, recently won the ‘Best World Music Album’ award at Les Victories de la Musique for his ‘Lamomali’ project, which also featured Fatoumata.
Diawara has previously worked with some of the biggest names in contemporary music. She recorded with Bobby Womack and Herbie Hancock; played Glastonbury and other major festivals; and toured/recorded 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. Diawara most recently appeared at Carnegie Hall alongside David Crosby, Chris Thile, Snarky Puppy and others for an evening of topical protest music. Rolling Stones noted that “the singer and guitarist, originally from Mali, provided two of the night´s most striking moments. Her ode to the power of women ´Mousso´ sung in her native language, was hypnotic, and her captivating stage spins enhanced her anthem ´Unite´”.
Foto: Aida Muluneh