By Mark Jenkins
Friday, October 5, 2012
Born in Ivory Coast and long a resident of Paris, Fatoumata Diawara hasn’t spent that much time in Mali, her ancestral home. But there’s no sense of distance on “Fatou,” the singer-guitarist’s lovely debut album. These gentle songs are rooted as surely in Mali’s Wassoulou culture as in the music of the great Oumou Sangare, for whom Diawara has sung backing vocals.
The album opens with the simple sound of “Kanou,” which initially features Diawara’s voice, acoustic guitar and subtle percussion. But “Fatou” is hardly an Afro-folk field recording. Diawara and co-producer Nick Gold sometimes add electric bass, guitar or keyboards, and the vocal arrangements are delicate yet often complex. Although “Fatou” never sounds like a supersession, it features such well-known musicians as drummer Tony Allen, bassist John Paul Jones and kora master Toumani Diabate.
Whether singing the praises of Sangare in “Makoun Oumou” or making a case for illegal immigrants in “Clandestin,” Diawara always sounds poised. She has a silky soprano that’s well suited to ballads, and an affinity for lounge jazz. Add multiple voices and percolating polyrhythms, however, and she produces such sweetly rollicking tunes as “Sowa” and “Bakonoba.” Diawara may not have a mighty voice, but her well-crafted songs are quietly powerful.