Fatoumata Diawara (aka Fatou) was born in the Ivory Coast in 1982, the daughter of Malian parents. She began participating in her father’s dance troupe as a child and was a popular performer of the wildly flailing didadi dance from Wassoulou, her ancestral home in western Mali. At the age of twelve, she refused to go to school and her parents decided to have Fatou go live with her aunt in Bamako, Mali. She would end up not seeing her parents again for another decade.
Her aunt was an actress and Fatou would hang around the set of her films to watch over her aunt’s newborn child. Fatou’s beauty struck the director of one of the films and she earned a one line part in the final scene of the film Taafe Fangan (The Power of Women). This led to her being given a lead role by the celebrated director Cheick Omar Sissoko in his 1999 film La Genèse (Genesis). These roles eventually brought Fatou to Paris where she went to perform as the classical Greek role of Antigone on stage. After touring with the production she returned to Mali where she was given the lead in Dani Kouyaté’s popular 2001 film Sia, The Dream of the Python. The film tells the story of a West African legend called Sia, a young girl who defies tradition. To many in Mali, Guinea, Senegal and Burkina Faso, Fatou is Sia thanks to the film’s enormous success throughout the region.
Indeed she defied tradition as Jean-Louis Courcoult, the director of the renowned French theater company, Royale de Luxe, went to Bamako to recruit her for his productions. Since Fatou was still unmarried, he had to get the permission of her parents who promptly refused. Fatou took the matter into her own hands and ran away to the airport to fly to Paris, narrowly avoiding the police who had been notified of the girl’s disappearance.
It wasn’t long after joining Royale de Luxe that Fatou began to gain attention for her singing. She started out singing backstage during her downtime, but was soon singing leads for the theater company. This ended up grabbing the attention of Cheikh Tidiane Seck, the celebrated Malian musician and producer who invited her to travel with him back to Mali to work on two projects as chorus vocalist; Seya the Grammy nominated album by Mali’s star Oumou Sangaré and Red Earth the Grammy winning Malian project by American jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater. When the albums were released Fatou toured worldwide as singer and dancer with both projects.
The rest became history after her friend Rokia Traore convinced her to pick up the guitar. Fatou bought herself an acoustic guitar and taught herself how to play it. Her album, simply titled Fatou, became an instant success when it dropped in September of 2011. She has done a nice job mixing her solo acoustic material with other songs featuring a a full band. She has won the hearts of many and has worked with Cheikh Lô, Toumani Diabaté, Herbie Hancock and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones to name a few. She has recently joined Damon Albarn, Tony Allen and Flea as part of the ‘Rocket Juice and the Moon’ project, which has an album scheduled to be released in March. I’m sure you’ll be seeing a lot more of Fatoumata Diawara in the upcoming years. In the meantime have a listen to “Mousso” below from Fatou available on World Circuit Records.