Fatoumata Diawara
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Fatoumata Diawara

Band World Folk


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"RFI Musique"

08/04/2009 -
For a 26-year-old Fatoumata Diawara has already packed a lot into her career, making a name for herself as an actress and performing with the renowned street theatre troupe Royal Deluxe. Now the multi-talented Malian has reinvented herself as a singer.

Fatoumata Diawara gave one of her first ever concerts in Paris, performing solo at the Musée Dapper in January 2009. Fatoumata appeared a little hesitant as she strode out on the tiny stage that night, guitar in hand. And yet she is a consummate show woman with years of film and theatre experience behind her. The Malian actress played the wicked witch Karaba in the musical Kirikou et Karaba and had a starring role in Cheikh Oumar Cissoko's feature film La Genèse. Then, after performing in the theatre alongside well-known actors such as Sotigui Kouyaté, she spent six years touring the globe with the internationally renowned street theatre troupe Royal Deluxe. An impressive CV for anyone in their twenties!

Creative freedom

But if Fatoumata experienced a moment of pre-concert nerves at the Musée Dapper, it is only understandable. Going from actress to singer is a major leap in artistic terms. Back stage after the show, Fatoumata appeared smiling and relaxed. "Singing has always been there in everything I've done," she says, "But I'm a bit stubborn so I've never really accepted the idea of performing other people's material. There have been plenty of roles which have required me to sing, however. One day, the director of Royal Deluxe heard me singing during a rehearsal and he appointed me lead singer of the troupe. I've never learnt the traditional Bélédougou style, though - I don't even speak the language!" Fatoumata has, in fact, never lived in Bélédougou (a region of southern Mali where her parents and a number of pioneering Malian singers such as Rokia Traoré come from).

Fatoumata, who was born in Côte d'Ivoire in 1982, was something of a child prodigy, learning to dance at an early age. Her father, who was mayor of the Abobo neighbourhood, in northern Abidjan, had his own dance troupe and he encouraged his daughter to express herself through dance. "One of the most important things my father taught me was to enjoy the freedom of creativity," Fatoumata explains, "When I was around five or six, he encouraged me to invent dance steps and then the whole troupe would perform my choreography - and on very important occasions, too. We'd go and meet President Houphouët-Boigny at the airport, for instance… At one point, I was dancing up to ten hours a day! But when my father realised that dance had taken over my life to that extent he decided to get me out of Abidjan."

Fatoumata was packed off to Bamako, in Mali, to stay with one of her aunts. But her father's plans to steer his daughter away from an artistic career soon went awry. The aunt in question was an actress who took Fatoumata on set with her one day. Fatoumata was spotted by one of the directors and left school to launch an acting career at the age of 16. Dancing and acting may run in her family, but Fatoumata says she was never predestined to become a singer. "The Diawara are a noble caste," she says, "We're not 'griots', so I was not destined to become a singer by birth. I believe I was chosen in another way, though. I have the same name as one of my aunts who was a singer. And when I was twelve I remember being at this traditional ceremony in Bamako and my aunt suddenly pointed at me and announced that I was going to inherit her voice. I didn't understand what she meant at the time - but her prediction has come true now!"

Forcing the hand of destiny

Fatoumata has certainly played a part in shaping her own destiny. As a budding young actress she went off to live in Paris against her parents' wishes and over the years she forged a reputation for having a will of iron. "I see that as a quality," she insists, "You have to have a very strong character in this profession. If you don't, you risk losing yourself along the way… I think what makes me stand out a bit is that my music is original. It's a mix of soul and funk and reggae with a bit of traditional influence thrown in. I call it 'Wassoulou folk'. The other distinctive thing is my voice. It's quite deep and flavoured by my Bélédougou accent."

Fatoumata's vocal talent was spotted back in Bamako in 2006 when she was auditioning for a part in the world's first African opera, the Opéra du Sahel. Fatoumata did not land a role, owing to her reputation for being "difficult" to work with, but she did come to the attention of Cheikh Tidiane Seck that day. "Like a lot of other Malians, Cheikh Tidiane knew me as an actress, so I think he was surprised to find I could sing, too. Anyway, that same night he asked me if I'd like to sing backing vocals on Oumou Sangaré's album and he also invited me to work on the Red Earth project with Dee Dee Bridgewater. I was lucky enough to go out on tour with them, doing alternate shows with Mamani Keita."

Cheikh Tidiane Seck, the "Mandingo wizard", was there to support Fatoumata at the Musée Dapper in January, joining his protégée on stage to accompany her on the calabash on one song. "He's my 'father in music'," Fatoumata declares, "the only one I can count on to give me advice that helps me improve."
While Fatoumata has yet to prove her worth in the studio, there was no mistaking her vocal promise live on stage at the Musée Dapper. One of her final songs, Tounkan (an emotional farewell between a husband emigrating to France and leaving his wife behind) brought a tear to more than one eye. And by the end of her next song, Bakonoba, Fatoumata had the entire audience up on their feet dancing as she broke into an impressive series of choreographed moves up on stage. One thing's for sure and that is that we have not heard the last of Fatoumata Diawara, singer extraordinaire! - Fatoumata Diawara reinvented - From actress to singer


Appears on:
2007: Kirikou et Kabara OST

2008: Cheikh Tidiane Seck ‘Sabalay’
Dee Dee Bridgewater ‘Red Earth’

2009: Oumou Sangaré ‘Seya’
Blick Bassy ‘Leman’

2010: Dobet Gnahore ‘Djekpa la You’

Debut solo album due out on World Circuit in 2011.



Of Malian parentage, Fatoumata Diawara ('Fatou') was born in the Ivory Coast in 1982. After achieving local fame as a dancer she moved to Bamako in her early teens and began an acting career at the age of 16. Amongst other work, she starred in Cheikh Oumar Sissoko's feature film 'La Genèse '. Fatoumata moved to Paris in her early twenties from where she spent six years touring with the internationally renowned theatre troupe Royal de Luxe. In the past eighteen months she has divided her time starring in the musical 'Kirikou et Karaba', recording and touring with Oumou Sangare and writing her own film script.

At the same time she has combined these activities with her passion, developing her own unique music; composing, arranging and playing (she is a self taught guitarist) her own material. She has now formed a group of young musicians and has recently turned down a starring role with le Cirque du Soleil to dedicate herself to the recording of her debut album with World Circuit. Her music is a very modern and personal take on Wassoulou traditions with a wide variety of influences. She's brilliant and perfect for a WOMEX showcase.