I missed the opportunity to see Fatoumata Diawara in concert earlier this year, but a good friend kept raving about her, so I looked her up.
Fatou was born to Malian parents in Ivory Coast, one of 11 children. Her childhood was filled with singing and dancing through the monthly traditional music and dancing events her father organized. Music runs deep in her background–her grandfather played a traditional harp.
Her parents sent her to live with an aunt in Bamako, Mali when she was nine, where she started acting at a young age. Fatou starred in a number of films, including Sia, The Dream of the Python.
At 19, she defied her parents and tradition, and ran away to France to join the theatre company Royale de Luxe. She was afraid that if she did not get away, her desire to live an independent life and follow her creative dreams would be denied her, just as her grandfather forbade her mother from pursuing a singing career.
Segueing from acting, the indomitable Malian soon found her way into singing, starting off as a background singer for various artists, including well-known fellow Malian musician, Oumou Sangaré. She eventually took up guitar and started writing her own songs. Her first album, Fatou, was released in September 2012.
Fatou sings mostly in Bambara, Mali’s lingua franca, and is passionate about inspiring Malian women to make bold choices for their lives. Her ballad, Boloko, highlights the negative effects of female genital mutilation and encourages women to spare their daughters this tradition.
Malian society is extremely conservative and slow to change, but Fatou is confident that music is helping people rethink things. She currently resides in France with her Italian husband, Nicolo.
In concert, Fatou is a ball of energy–with her sensuous and smoky voice, her African costumes and her wonderful Malian dancing are entrancing. Listen to some of her music below and go see her in concert when she’s in a town near you.