Fatoumata Diawara: 'We can present our culture in a new way'

The Malian singer on her hopes for African music and Africa Express, which features 80 musicians on one train as it makes a string of stops across the UK

Since the release of her acclaimed debut, Fatou, last year, the statuesque Malian singer has proved unstoppable. Aside from thrilling shows, Diawara has guested on Bobby Womack's comeback album and resumed the acting career that made her name a decade ago.

This is your second time performing with Africa Express. Do you know what you'll be doing?

I really enjoyed it last year. It's amazing to meet new people and encounter different styles of music. I'll be singing a couple of my songs, and I've written a lot of new material, but the rest will be improvisation. This year's shows are special, because there are so many artists.

Is African music finally crossing over?

I think so. We're trying to make it more accessible but it's hard because our languages and culture are so strong. We don't have to abandon our roots, but we can present our culture in a new way.

You sing in three languages.

Not really, just in Bambara. In the theatre I sing in French but I'm not fully myself when I do so, and I like to bare my soul to my audience! I sang in English for the first time on Bobby Womack's record. I was nervous but Damon Albarn, who was producing, talked me into it.

You write about women's issues such as female genital mutilation. Are African attitudes changing?

Very slowly, yes. When I was 20 I decided to change everything about my life as a woman, but I know many African women are scared to do the same. When enough women can be themselves, things will change. More young women will choose their husband and not accept an arranged marriage. That's important – if you decide your love, you can do many things afterwards.

Will you continue to act?

Last winter I took the lead role in a new film, Moribayassa, which is the name of a special dance women do when they've overcome an obstacle in life; it's a very old custom. I want to be an example to my generation, to say it's OK to be an actress, it doesn't make you a prostitute. It's just a job, and a very good one.


Interview by Neil Spencer

The GuardianTramp

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