With an appetite for learning almost as big as her vibrant personality, the Malian Fatoumata Diawara has modestly slipped out of her actress persona to inhabit her new role as a singer. The simplicity of her first album Fatou translates her desire to stand forward unadorned.
She wanted to give herself time, meet some people, “know why people sing” which is why she didn’t follow up on the propositions she received from record companies, esteeming she wasn’t really ready yet. It was when she met Nick Gold on Herbie Hancock’s The Imagine Project that Fatoumata Diawara finally followed her gut feeling and placed her trust in a respected producer whose track record includes the likes of Buena Vista Social Club and Ali Farka Touré.
She presented him with the demos of her songs simply sketched out with a guitar and a voice. Gold managed to convince her not to move away from the format, even though that had been her original intention. To satisfy the young not-yet-thirty-year-old, they tried setting tracks to faster, more energetic tempos, but in the end he only kept hold of the more intimate versions.
At each step, the Englishman drew from his experience, both in the arrangements, which the singer describes as “subtle”, and in the careful choice of musicians who turned up one by one at the studio. Among them, the Cameroonian bass player Hilaire Penda and the Guinean Moh Kouyaté.
For Fatoumata, the absence of her “godfather” Cheick Tidiane Seck and her “godmothers” Dee Dee Bridgewater and Oumou Sangaré (to whom she nevertheless dedicates a track) is her way of breaking free and putting herself forward just as she is. “I wanted to do an album that was autonomous, like my life. I don’t belong to anyone. I’m on the road and I meet people,” sums up the ex-actress from the musical Kirikou et Karaba who admits that after spending so much time in the world of film and stage, her musical coming-out is a recent affair.
"Deeply moved" by Nina Simone, she listens to Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holliday but is keen to maintain traditional sounds from her region of Wassoulou. The twelve tracks that make up Fatou lie somewhere between the two lands, with a clear leaning towards Mali on Boloko, at times rise up to higher climes, like on Sowa and Bakonoba. The aim of the album is to help her express something deep inside her, and a way to harness some of the impressive energy she exudes stage.
Fatoumata Diawara Fatou (World Circuit/Harmonia Mundi) 2011
Playing live at the New Morning in Paris on 29 November 2011
Translation: Anne-Marie Harper