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Fatoumata & Roberto

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Monday June 01, 2015

From Financial Times (UK)

Fatoumata Diawara and Roberto Fonseca, Barbican, London — review
By: David Honigmann

Separately, Fatoumata Diawara and Roberto Fonseca are much loved by London audiences, and they walked on stage together, through purple-tinted dry ice and recorded street sounds, to be met by a tidal wave of affection. The opening number, “Yemaya”, was crowded, Ramsés Rodríguez’s drumming drowning out both Fonseca’s keyboard fluidity and Diawara’s singing. But from Diawara’s old showcase “Sowa”, the six-piece band coalesced. Sekou Bah played taut funky patterns on electric guitar that Diawara answered with her own; Drissa Sidibé’s kamalen’goni prickled; Diawara was conversational in the verses and explosive in the choruses; and Fonseca stretched out into his own solos with tidal, keyboard-length glissandi.

Both Diawara and Fonseca learned their craft from old masters: she as a backing singer for her fellow Malian Oumou Sangaré; he as a pianist with members of the Buena Vista Social Club, essentially playing the part of Rubén González. He does not share González’s gravitational pull towards classicism, but he does have the same fascination with letting a melodic line walk off a cliff and keep on walking.

Diawara is coolly feminist and a fervent advocate for the dispossessed of Africa. “Sowa” deals with children given up for adoption; “Clandestin” laments the fate of economic migrants (even more topical now than when it was written several years ago) to foghorn synth notes from Fonseca; “Mandela”, with marabi piano riffs rippling like the Transkei, was a new and predictably popular paean. Gospel chords marched up through the scales on the mildly reggaefied “United”, which started as a plea for refugee children and ended up as a pan-African anthem.

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