Diawara, Schomburg, Christine Jean Chambers Exhibit

Ron Scott | 2/20/2020, 4:56 p.m.
Traditional African music will grace the stage of Town Hall on Feb. 21 as Malian singer, songwriter, guitarist, and actor ...
Jazz Notes

Traditional African music will grace the stage of Town Hall on Feb. 21 as Malian singer, songwriter, guitarist, and actor Fatoumata Diawara brings her mesmerizing blend of Western pop, rock, Afrobeat, and R&B. Opening the show will be Los Angeles-based Guatemalan singer and songwriter Gaby Moreno.

Diawara’s work has attracted the attention of musicians working out of the box from a variety of genres, leading to collaborations with Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers); Cuban jazz pianist Roberto Fonseca; singer Bobby Womack; singer and songwriter Damon Albarn (of Blur and Gorillaz fame); NEA Jazz Master Herbie Hancock; and Ethiopian composer and arranger Mulatu Astatke.

Living now in Italy, Diawara sings mostly in Bambara, the national language of Mali, and builds on the tradition of “songs of advice” from the culture of her ancestral Wassoulou region. 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.

“I didn’t want to sing in English or French because I wanted to respect my African heritage,” she once explained. “But I wanted a modern sound because that’s the world I live in. I’m a traditionalist, but I need to experiment, too. You can keep your roots and influences but communicate them in a different style.”

For this Town Hall appearance, Diawara will be featuring songs from her most recent album, fittingly titled “Fenfo,” which translates as “Something to Say.” “Fenfo” was nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best World Music Album.

Her main message is hope, she said in a recent interview. It’s all “about the world, peace, how Africa can be a better place, especially for women, because I am one, and I am a survivor,” she elaborated. “I want to encourage those who have lost hope.”

For tickets visit website thetoenhall.org.

During this Black History Month which should be celebrated each day with a vengeance, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black culture (515 Lenox Avenue) is presenting a variety of significant programs, including “Illuminating Forgotten Histories: New York City’s Early Black Communities,” which took place Feb. 18.

With topics ranging from Central Park’s Seneca Village to Greenwich Village’s Little Africa, the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery presented a conversation with scholars Leslie M. Harris, Jamila Brathwaite, and John Reddick on historically significant but widely forgotten Black communities. The event was presented in partnership with the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation; Michelle Commander moderated.

The Schomburg continues with “Malcolm X Remembered” on Feb. 21, the anniversary of the Muslim minister and revolutionary human rights activist’s death (assassination), at 12 noon.

The pop-up exhibition from Schomburg’s curated archives will feature handwritten notes, rarely seen photos, and historic papers of the civil rights leader. Attendees are invited to take part in the oral history project, which will include sharing how Malcolm X’s words have made an impact on their lives.

In the last decade it was photographer and playwright Christine Jean Chambers whose work documented the rise of the newly energized Black theater movement. Chambers was committed to her work with women of color, and had an intuitive connection that allowed her to capture unique shots of hundreds of actors.