Fatoumata Diawara talks family, Mali and supporting local bands ahead of her UK tour

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Fatoumata Diawara

Fatoumata Diawara is playing Leaf in February and Getintothis’ Peter Goodbody had a chance to tear her away from her busy schedule.

We first encountered Fatoumata Diawara in 2011 (bloody hell) at Africa Oyé where she delivered one of the best sets that year.

Her debut album Fatou had not then been released, but there was a poise and a confident air about her as she sashayed around the Oyé stage, winning over just about everyone in the crowd.

Her pedigree was not in doubt, though.

You only need to know she persuaded Tony Allen (Fela Kuti’s legendary drummer) to hit the skins for her, in order to have an idea of how good this music would turn out to be. It was vintage Oyé and a prime example of why we love the festival so much.

Since then, there has been a second album, Fenfo, meaning Something to Say as well as an earlier EP, Kanou. Her music is typical West African fare, but with a whole dose of class added on.

No surprise, then, that she spends most of her days and weeks touring the world. She is a trailblazer for the region along with acts such as Tinariwen, Habib Koite, Oumou Sangare, Rokia Traore, Daby Toure and many more.

We managed to snatch a quick chat with her over a flaky WhatsApp connection, ahead of her Liverpool gig in Leaf next month.

We were given an Italian mobile number to call, so the answer to the first question was a surprise. There was all sorts going on in the background, but here’s the gist:

Getintothis: Hi, where are you and what are you doing?

Fatoumata Diawara: I’m in Bamako, right now. Resting. I’ve been on a long tour, so I’m enjoying being with my family.

Getintothis: You seem to spend quite a lot of time on the road, you seem to gig quite a lot.

FD: Yeah

Getintothis: How much time do you get to see the places where you play?

FD: It’s very fast. It depends if I’m tired. But I can go around with my family and my children – we can go to restaurants. But most of the time, I like to rest.

Getintothis: How much time do you spend in Bamako?

FD: Oh, two weeks, now. It’s a lot.

Getintothis: How is it being a musician in Mali at the moment?

FD: It’s not easy, but it seems like people are happy. The young generation are very motivated and you can see the energy. Most of western people are scared to come to Mali and this makes me sad because we are here and there are people coming to our festivals. But it’s local audiences.

I hope in the future this can change because Malian people know, the most important thing for us is that other people can participate.

Getintothis: You had massive issues with militia in the north

FD: Exactly. But otherwise, even last week I played a festival here. A popular one.

Getintothis: Where do you think you fit into the music scene? Some British press have tried to stop using the term “World Music”

FD: People like to have a room for everything, you know. We can put, not only African music in that room, but the word isn’t important. If we think of positive vibes, so let’s make it a positive because “World” means not singing in English, or French or whatever.

Other languages [are]World Music, so to me, it’s fine. I don’t want to think too hard about it. I cannot change it. It’s like pop music, or hard rock music. Otherwise, you think too much and can be negative about it.

Getintothis: Do you have a description for your music? Some people call Malian music Desert Blues, do you identify with that?

FD: Right now, I’m trying to write a song. I’m trying to do something with the Touareg music. I love that music. But to show how much we are tired of this war. It’s time to change

… at this point the line went very bad and I was struggling to hear …

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Getintothis: To change the subject, you’ve got a UK tour coming up and you’re playing some quite small venues. Any reason behind that? You could have played bigger shows.

FD: For the beginning, it doesn’t matter if it’s small or if it’s big. For now we see how much the people are motivated. This is a kind of a test We’ll see for now. Maybe next time there will be bigger audiences. Let’s see.

Getintothis: I think Liverpool will remember you from Africa Oyé in 2011.

FD: I hope so. It was a long time ago. I didn’t even have an album then.

Getintothis: We have to go. Can you give us any recommendations of music we should be listening to right now?

FD: Local music. A lot of local music. I’m listening to local music.

  • Fatoumata Diawara plays Leaf, Liverpool on February 6, 2020

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