Fatoumata Diawara (277639)
Credit: Photo courtesy of artist

We had the pleasure to speak via Skype with Malian musician Fatoumata Diawara during her busy tour schedule about her music, how she got started and the responsibility of touching a large, diverse audience. Diawara will be performing in New York City at (Le) Poisson Rouge March 30.

Her soft-spoken demeanor and humility give a very interesting contrast to her onstage confidence. We hope New Yorkers will take the opportunity to enjoy her traditional African music, mostly sung in her native language of Bambara, but as she explains in our conversation, her new album “Fenfo” (Something to Say) is for everyone. She has the unique gift to be able to touch the world with her music by staying true to her native land and using vibrant vocals overlaid pop-inspired music. Swaying and entrancing tracks will take the listener to a new and entertaining plane of musical enjoyment.

Diawara: I was born on the Ivory Coast, but to be honest, I didn’t grow up there. I grew up in Mali, my original country, with Malian traditions, Malian culture and everything. Music has always been something that has been [close] to me. It has been everything to me since I was 8 years old when my grand sister passed away. I started to sing, alone, for myself to clean my soul, to heal myself. I am still doing this.

For the media, I can say when I was 19 years old, I was starting to work with a French theater company. I was an actress [since I was] 14 years old, until now. Working at this French company was not natural for me. When we were on break time, when I was alone, I was always trying to sing. The director called me [and asked], “What is your relationship with the voice? You don’t talk too much but when you start to sing, you’re so happy. You change totally! Your light changes, your feelings change, everything changes on you. We all notice it. Why can’t you bring this light to our show?”

AmNews: What did you tell him?

Diawara: I told him, “I’m not ashamed. I would love to open my heart to you but this is totally personal. Singing is personal. I’m not singing to be known, I need to sing to listen to [myself], to digest, just to breath.” The director said, “Please, please, bring this intimacy to us. Please open your heart to us! Even one song or two songs in the show would be great.” [First] he asked me to sing a cover. I said, “No no no, if I have to sing in the show it’s going to be my own composition, my own lyrics,” because I have a lot to say [laughs]. And he said, “Ok, let’s go.” That was my first exposition to an audience. I was singing in this project for two years and people were coming to me and asking what I am [singing] about because the project was in French, but the singing part was in Bambara.

That was my decision, I wanted to sing in Bambara, and I was surprised at the reaction. People were coming to me and saying, “Why do you sing in your native language? We’re French. We don’t understand the meanings of your songs, but we could feel you. We feel connected to you.” That was interesting to me and I said, “Ok, this is what I should do.” I don’t need to sing in French or English, I have to connect with my native language.

AmNews: Do you feel like it has become a responsibility to connect with your audience or do you still keep it very personal?

Diawara: It’s very important, very necessary. Necessary in terms that when you see my audience, it’s so large. It’s so mixed. It is something very rare because most of the time, I come from Mali, and most of the time African music belongs to African audiences. Even in my generation, it’s like this. My audience is not like that. It’s really open. It’s getting bigger every day, everybody from all over the world. This is something I wasn’t expecting. It proved to me that it’s possible, and that’s huge. Music can connect so many people and bring peace. It’s a way to [share] a message—you can talk about women’s conditions, you can share anything that you want. It’s a huge responsibility.

For tickets, visit www.lpr.com/lpr_events/fatoumata-diawara-march-30th-2019/.

For more information about Fatoumata, visit her official website at wwww. fatoumatadiawara.com/.