Fatoumata Diawara – review

Jazz Cafe, London

Fatoumata Diawara has been hailed as the African newcomer of the year. In what, admittedly, has not been a classic period for new music from the continent, she has succeeded as a stylish performer who hasn't put a foot wrong. In the build-up to the release of her much-praised debut album, Fatou, she has given a series of confident shows, opening for major artists in large venues, often appearing solo. This, her long-awaited first London concert as a headliner, delighted a packed Jazz Cafe and revealed both her considerable skills and her limitations, alike.

Born to Malian parents but now living in Paris, Fatou is a former actor who knows how to charm an audience with her almost constant smile. On stage, she showcased her guitar work and fluid, soulful vocals on a series of easygoing but gently rhythmic ballads, helped by an impressive band led by guitarist Mah Kouyaté. Her style worked well for the fine, pained love-song Kanou, but seemed less appropriate for Clandestin, a lament for illegal immigrants. Then, slowly, she began to speed up, and by the time she reached Kele, a plea for African leaders to stop war, she had taken off her brightly coloured headscarf and was dancing across the stage, shaking her braided hair, driven on by handclaps and chattering, freewheeling guitar, with echoes of the Ivory Coast singer Dobet Gnahoré.

By the end, she had extended her range to include funk, jazz and the music of Mali's Wassoulou region. It was an entertaining, highly professional and eclectic performance, but lacking in excitement. Diawara doesn't yet have the emotional range or intensity of Mali's greatest female singers, Rokia Traoré and Oumou Sangaré.


Robin Denselow

The GuardianTramp

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