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Mali's Voice Of Protest Cries Freedom

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Sunday June 22, 2014

From The Independent

Fatoumata Diawara: Mali’s voice of protest cries freedom
By: Susie Mesure

The singer tells Susie Mesure why Friday’s concert marking International Women’s Day means so much.

Sung in her native Bambara, the words of Fatoumata Diawara’s songs will be a mystery to most of the audience in London at next Friday night’s concert. But the sentiment behind the Malian singer’s lyrics will strike a chord far beyond those gathered on the South Bank for a concert to mark International Women’s Day.

Sitting in a central London café, swaddled in a grey puffa coat, her thick cream scarf wrapped tight against the chill, Diawara explains: “We have to keep singing. Women need more motivation. We need to wake up women’s consciences and say, ‘Don’t give up. Continue.’”

The Paris-based artist sees herself as an ambassador, a role she has relished since fleeing her native country for France 10 years ago, aged 20. From there, she has joined the handful of African singers known outside their continent. “We have only Angélique [Kidjo], Oumou [Sangaré], Miriam [Makeba]. That’s because in Africa, we have many women who sing but it’s very difficult to be a singer – to have musicians to support you, and respect you, and to have your husband support you; to have your freedom. Women need to be emancipated.”

At 30, Diawara, who is married to an Italian, would like a baby. She relishes the choice, knowing that, had she stayed in Mali, that decision would not have been hers. “I should be married to my cousin if I’d stayed. Normally, in my family, at 15 you are married, at 15 you are a woman.” By now, she’d have had nine children, and be “very, very, old”.

Instead, she adds: “In Mali, my generation looks at me, at every action I do. I’m like a little example for them, for women. When I’m in Bamako, many girls come to me and say they’re very happy for everything I’m doing. I can tell them what I want through my music.”

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