Fatoumata Diawara (born 1982 in Ouragahio, Ivory Coast) is a Malian actress, singer-songwriter and guitarist currently living in France. She received two nominations at the 61st Annual Grammy Awards for Best World Music Album for her album Fenfo and Best Dance Recording for Ultimatum in which she was featured with the English band Disclosure.
Diawara was born in the Ivory Coast to Malian parents. As an adolescent, she was sent back to their native Bamako in Mali to be raised by an aunt. When she was eighteen, Diawara moved to France to pursue acting. She briefly returned to Mali for a film role, but fled back to Paris to avoid being coerced into marriage by her family.
Diawara later took up the guitar and began composing her own material, writing songs that blend Wassoulou traditions of southern Mali with international influences. She has said that she is “the first female solo electric guitar player in Mali”.
Film and theater
After moving to France, Diawara appeared in Cheick Oumar Sissoko’s 1999 feature film Genesis, Dani Kouyaté’s popular 2001 film Sia, le rêve du python, and in the internationally renowned street theatre troupe Royal de Luxe. She also played a leading role in the musical Kirikou et Karaba.
Simultaneously with pursuing her musical career, Diawara has continued her cinematic activities, with numerous roles, appearances, and musical input in multiple feature films, including in Timbuktu, which won seven César Award nods and an Academy Award nomination in 2014.
Music performance and recording
Noted for her “sensuous voice,” Diawara sings primarily in Bambara, the national language of Mali, and builds on the tradition of “songs of advice” from the culture of her ancestral Wassoulou region. Diawara has performed or recorded with Malian and international stars such as Cheick Tidiane Seck, Oumou Sangaré, AfroCubism, Dee Dee Bridgewater (on Red Earth: A Malian Journey), and the Orchestre Poly Rythmo de Cotonou. The EP Kanou was released May 9, 2011. She wrote every song on her debut album Fatou from World Circuit Records that released in September 2011. (Nonesuch Records released the Kanou EP digitally in North America on September 27, 2011, and the album Fatou on August 28, 2012.)
In September 2012, Diawara was featured in a campaign called “30 Songs / 30 Days” to support Half the Sky, a multi-platform media project inspired by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book. September 2012 also saw her board the Africa Express Train with Damon Albarn, Rokia Traoré, Baaba Maal, Amadou & Mariam, Nicolas Jaar, and the Noisettes, amongst many others. The show culminated in a 4.5k venue in Kings Cross where Fatoumata performed with Paul McCartney.
Diawara has spent recent years touring the world, with a landmark performance for the English-speaking public at the 2013 Glastonbury Festival. Alongside many European gigs, her schedule has taken her to South America, Asia and Australia, as well as on multiple trips to the US, where in September 2013 she performed as part of the Clinton Global Initiative alongside The Roots in New York. Since mid-2014 she has collaborated with Roberto Fonseca, with numerous live performances and a joint live album, At Home – Live in Marciac, along the way. In 2014 she also performed with Mayra Andrade and Omara Portuondo. February 2015 saw her first live concert as an established international star in Mali, her home country, Festival Sur Le Niger in Ségou, where she shared the stage once again with her long-time friend and mentor, Oumou Sangaré, Bassekou Kouyate, and many other domestic Malian acts.
In her songs, Diawara has addressed issues such as the pain of emigration; a need for mutual respect; the struggles of African women; life under the rule of religious fundamentalists, and the practice of female circumcision. One song that exemplifies her focus on these topics is “Mali-ko (Peace/La Paix)”, a seven-minute song and video that blasts the fundamentalist conquest of Northern Mali and urges unity to quell resentment against the Tuareg minority whom some blamed for abetting the incursion. Diawara said about the song, “”I needed to scream with this song, ‘Wake up! We are losing Mali! We are losing our culture, our tradition, our origins, our roots!'”.
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