Considering Malian artist Fatoumata Diawara is also a successful actress and social activist campaigning against the trafficking and sale of black migrants in Libya, it is no great surprise there was a seven year wait since her stunning debut album Fatou. However, one of the most beautiful voices in African music is back with the recent release of Fenfo, or ‘Something to say’. Mostly recorded in Bambara, the national language of Mali, the precise meaning of songs is thus obscured for most English speakers. Fortunately, Diawara’s fantastic voice and the rhythms of the guitar and drums convey just as much: love, sorrow, family and hope are only some of the themes touched upon in the album.
That Fatoumata Diawara can confidently be seen as one of the most important voices of young African womanhood is made clear in the first two tracks of Fenfo. The video of the opening song ‘Nterini’ is rife with powerful Afro-futuristic aesthetics that reappear on the album cover too, while simultaneously telling the story of a migrant and evoking the sorrow felt by two separated lovers. Shot in the Danakil desert in Ethopia, the video and song are affecting reminders of the global migration crisis, with Diawara playing the part of a goddess figure.
In ‘Kokoro’, which means ‘ancestral heritage’ in Bamara, she calls upon black Africans to embrace their own tradition and culture. “We have our own culture and civilisation, which we must be proud of. Instead, we want to look like Westerners, Chinese, Asians and Arabs by bleaching our skin, selling off our land and resources, and adopting their fashions. As a result, we are lost and our traditions escape us.” Diawara’s emotional, raw voice conveys this sorrow, while also evoking a determination and confidence. The value she places on her roots is one of the main reasons she doesn’t sing in English or French. As a result, Fenfo is an album that respects Diawara’s African heritage while communicating them in a modern, experimental and highly engaging way.