What does it sound like?:
Fatoumata Diawara is from Mali. She moved to France to pursue an acting career when she was a teenager. Her parents wanted her to marry but she fled to join a travelling theatre. Later, she learnt guitar, started writing songs and revealed herself to have a warm, toasted chestnut of a voice and a delicious sense of rhythm. She runs both careers in parallel, hence the long gap between this album and her first in 2011, Katou. In between, musically, she has been involved in several collaborations that cover all points east and west, from Bobby Womack, Herbie Hancock, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Damon Albarn, and Paul McCartney to David Crosby, Snarky Puppy and Roberto Fonseca, with whom she made a live album. Diawara is a woman who is proudly African but is willing to adapt to other cultures and styles and it shows in her music.
Since her debut, she has grown in confidence both in her singing and her song-writing. Fenfo means something to say. She sings mainly in Bambará, with smatterings of English, about love, family, migration. There is a full English translation on an insert for the physical product. Her voice is soulful, expressive and tender. Each of the twelve tracks are different but come together as a coherent whole. They’re songs here with a rich groove (Fenfo), a rock edge (Bonya), a funk simmer (Negue, Negue), a burning blues (Kokoro) and a poppy syncopation (Ou Y’an Ye). The emotions range from fierce determination (Nterini), the delicate love of a mother for a child (Mama), sensual intimacy (Kanou Dan Yen), the joy of freedom (Dibi Bo) to the heartbreak of unrequited love (Don Do). Through it all, Diawara maintains a strong sense of self and deports herself with elegance.
The musicians are stellar but they behave like a family, there to support Diawara not to steal the limelight. They serve the songs judiciously and beautifully. Electric guitar sits comfortably with the ancient strings of the kora and kamel ngoni. A rock drum kit blends with traditional African percussion. Matthieu Chedid co-produces and plays guitar, adding his own Gallic twist. The cellist, Vincent Segal, guests on two tracks and Sidiki Diabaté graces Bonya.
Katou was like sitting in an off-the-beaten-track cafe and being blown away by the singer. Fenfo is ready to stride the global stage. Diawara makes the transition by being true to herself, her African roots, her experience of other cultures and musical styles and her friends. Fenfo is a positive album looking forward to a bright future with a strong knowledge of where it came from. It’s a real pleasure to listen to.
What does it all *mean*?
Malian people are enough to restore your faith in humanity. There is an ongoing struggle with Islamic extremism in their country. Malian musicians were persecuted in the terrorist strongholds in the north, yet their music is uplifting and celebratory. In Paris, their citizens perform acts of heroism without a second thought; the supermarket employee, a Muslim, who hid Jewish people in the basement during a terror attack and the amazing ‘spiderman’ bounding up the side of a building to rescue a small child.
Goes well with…
A broad mind and a sense of the global village.
Might suit people who like…