4 stars for Fatoumata Diawara at Roundhouse

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Friday January 31, 2020

From The Art Desk

Fatoumata Diawara, Roundhouse review – Malian magic on show

“Fatoumata Diawara knows how to please: with a winning and innocent smile, she wins the audience over in a matter of seconds. She has a vocal style all of her own: in her first song, ‘Don Do’, a quiet and meditative prelude to the boisterous show that follows, she seduces with sensual textures and a slight rasp unique among West African women singers, and which owes as much to jazz and gospel as to the traditions of her musically-rich country.

After the first of a number of slightly predictable but heartfelt intros, in which she promises to give us an Africa beyond the clichés of poverty and mass migration, Fatoumata launches into the first of a series of sizzling songs, characterized by the pentatonic scale of Bambara music, a style very different from the Manding sound of Salif Keita, and made much more popular by her mentor the Wassoulou ‘songbird’ Oumou Sangaré. In ‘Timbuktu’, Fatoumata cries out with great compassion for the children of Timbuktu, for whom education has been forbidden by the Islamists who would make culture one-dimensional and without music.

When Malian music first hit Europe and the USA in the 1980s and 90s, most of the performers stuck to traditional forms. Salif Keita was the first singer to marry Malian instruments with the showy pyrotechnics of the rock guitar. There had been ‘foreign’ influences before, not least a love affair with all things Afro-Cuban, going back to the 1940s, but the rock influence was new, and many found the flash of an electric guitar inappropriate. Later, Salif returned to a more traditional combination of ngonis, balafons, and acoustic guitars, and made a tremendous collection of more rootsy albums.”

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