Artist: Fatoumata Diawara
Genre: Ethnic Jazz, Vocal Jazz
Origin: Mali / France
Quality: mp3, 320 kbps
In her teens, Fatoumata Diawara moved to France to pursue an acting career. She appeared in a handful of films and worked with a street theater troupe but really found her calling later, when she took up the guitar and started writing songs. Born in Cote d’Ivoire and raised in southern Mali, Diawara grew up hearing Wassoulou music, a song style that’s thought by some ethnomusiclogists to be one of the main pre-colonial ancestors of blues. The Wassoulou cultural area is now split between three countries, but it has a history that extends back centuries, and Diawara merges that long, traditional history with a modern, globalized sensibility on her debut album.
Diawara has honed her performing and recording craft through work with AfroCubism, Orchestre Poly-Rythmo, and Herbie Hancock, among others, so really the big step here is to recording her own songs with her own arrangements. She has a voice with a naturally sensual glide to it that sometimes reminds me a little of Sade. Unlike many of her peers, such as Oumou Sangaré, power is not really a part of her style– she keeps her singing even and steady to complement the hypnotic, cycling guitar parts of her arrangements. The album is quietly intense, rarely rising above the volume of ordinary conversation.
Diawara sings in her native Wassoulou language, but understanding the exact content of the songs isn’t necessary to enjoy them. There’s plenty of information in the melodies and rhythms, and inventive musicianship as well. Diawara locks in with the simmering funk backdrop of “Bissa” by playing harmonics on her guitar instead of full chords. The electric leads seem to float up out of the patterns; several times over the course of the album, I found myself caught up in a flowing solo that I didn’t even notice when it started. This is how the whole record works. There’s no fanfare, nothing is announced. It simply surrounds you with its atmosphere.
by Joe Tangari