African music fans see her as the next pop star to be. Wherever she goes Fatoumata Diawara makes the headlines. With the recent release of her debut album Fatou, she’s brought a little bit of her native region of Wassoulou in Mali to the world of folk music. She’s currently touring Europe and here are a few words about her.
First thing is her incredible smile. Charming for some, irresistible for many. A quick look at the cover of the album unveiling the artist and her guitar and I can feel a spark in my eyes. I’m already in love with the music before having even listened to it.
Then her music. It’s chilled, upbeat and also quite varied. “Kanou” and “Clandestin” stand on the blues side while “Sowa” and “Bissa” are somewhat faster paced. Fatou’s voice is warm and profound, and that’s likely her best asset. The names of Oumou Sangaré or Rokia Traoré come to mind, both of them having inspired Fatou’s music.
If Fatou follows the path of great Malian musicians, her tie to Europe is more manifest. She’s lived in France since she was a teenager, which is felt throughout the album. It’s a well produced and beautiful piece of music but neither it is very daring or innovating. It sounds a little too polished at times.
The same could be said about her performances on stage. She has the talent, she has the energy but she sometimes lacks that little something that could really make her stand out from the rest of other gifted Malian musicians.
Whether on album or on stage Fatou stresses the messages she conveys through her lyrics. She sings about love and life. She pays tribute to her brothers and sisters who have no choice but to emigrate in appalling conditions. She also strongly criticises the practice of female genital mutilation, a tradition she believes only belongs to the past.
Fatou doesn’t quite live up the hype. Her music is sometimes brilliant, sometimes barely average. She has a huge potential. Now she needs to tone up if she’s to be the next leading figure in the Malian scene.
“Clandestin” performed in Paris at Festival Au Fil des Voix