IN CONVERSATION: Fatoumata Diawara

IN CONVERSATION: Fatoumata Diawara


‘I think that music can change the World and that’s what I’m going to do. Be a positive voice’, said a very happy and joyful sounding Fatoumata Diawara on the phone to me, as we spoke ahead of her performance at London’s Roundhouse at the end of this month.

In case you haven’t come across the Grammy nominated tour de force that is Fatoumata Diawara, then you’ve been missing out. She has collaborated with some of the UK’s finest musicians including Damon Albarn, Sir Paul McCartney, the Disclosure duo and international stars such as Bobby Womack

Never one to rest on her laurels, Diawara’s first album Fatou received critical acclaim upon its release in 2011. Her second, Grammy Nominated album Fenfo took a bit more time to put together and was released 7-years later, alongside a gruelling touring schedule that would scare most musicians, and during a time when the Mali singer was also focussing on more music collaborations. She laughs as I mention this and call her a “superwoman.” 

Her hard work is continuing to pay off, having sold-out London’s Jazz Café in 2018 and performing at Glastonbury last year, I tell her that her rhythm of working is incredible, her response is one of an artist who has taken the time to get to know herself and learn from others, as she says “it took me a long time to make a special second album and I hope that people see the hard work behind the scenes. You don’t always have to talk about what you are doing, you just have to do it.” She jokingly points out that you can hear her still getting used to playing guitar on certain songs on the Fatou album.

We move onto discussing how her music has been accepted into so many cultures, even though she sings predominately in Mali dialect of Wassoulou, whilst incorporating French and more recently some English. Diawara who was born in the Ivory Coast and now lives in France, loves her parent’s country of origin Mali, as though she has lived there her entire life. She admits that even though she is a citizen of the World, her favourite place to record music, she confesses is still Bamako – Mali’s capital. She reminisces and says that “it [Bamako], allows me to create all of the sounds that I want, using all of the traditional instruments that can only be found in Bamako. It allows me to be free.” 

Diawara’s music, carries with it a very traditional African sound, but its themes touch upon sensitive and modern subjects, such as genital mutilation and female empowerment. She is adamant that  Africans must preserve and show-off their culture, as “it’s beautiful and so varied, with our songs, the way we dress, this must be shared” she insists. 

The London show is fast approaching and I ask her how she feels about it. She quickly points out that although this will be her first solo show at the Roundhouse, she is far from daunted by the prospect. Having played a sold-out show there with Songhoy Blues in 2016, it’s not a completely unfamiliar stage for her. She becomes animated when I ask her how she feels about being reunited with her UK fans, “the UK audience is always ready to party with me. They have so much positive energy and they are a very motivated,” she states, “what I like about the UK audience, is that they get into the party and I can’t wait to see my brothers and sisters.”

Our conversation begins to draw to an end and I ask her what she hopes the next decade will bring for her and her music. Her endless positivity beams through the receiver, “many things (she laughs), I’m dreaming of a united World and taking care of our planet and how to see joy on our Planet”. I thank her for her time and come off the phone completely washed over by her positivity. 

The Roundhouse gig will without a doubt be an energy filled mid-week party. This is an artist who has transcended cultural barriers to bring unity through her music and she couldn’t have picked a better venue.

If before then, you’re looking for a Fatoumata Diawara fix, then be sure to press play on her recent collaboration with the music channel Colors, where she performances of her song Nterini with a beaming smile. 

Fatoumata Diawara will be performing at The Roundhouse on Thursday 30th January 2020. 

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