World album of the month: Fatoumata Diawara: Fenfo review

(Wagram/Montuno)

Fatoumata Diawara established her reputation as one of the finest, most inventive female singers in Mali on the strength of her remarkable debut album, Fatou, recorded seven years ago. She has since been involved in a variety of projects, including collaborations with Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca, and with fellow Malians Amadou & Mariam and Oumou Sangaré. And now, at last, comes her second solo album. Fenfo – which translates as “something to say” – is a classy affair that demonstrates her impressive musical range while leaving open the question of whether she has yet to substantiate her own distinctive musical identity. The album sees her in powerful voice covering a variety of styles, surrounded by a distinguished band. On her first album, the musicians included Toumani Diabaté, and here the cast includes his kora-playing son Sidiki, along with the French star Matthieu Chedid and that remarkable cellist Vincent Ségal.

Her voice is more soulful and expressive than on her debut, and the songs range from cool, melodic Afro-pop to the gently bluesy Mama, the stomping funk of Negue Negue, and the charming acoustic guitar and cello duet that ends the set. It may be aimed at the international crossover market, but even at its most commercial this is an album that succeeds. And the lyrics – mostly in Bambara, with the occasional burst of English – tackle everything from migration to African identity and demands to end the ban on marriages between different ethnic groups. I suspect that Diawara will produce more adventurous work in the future, but this is an entertaining and welcome return.

Other world music picks this month

Calypso Rose on stage.
Calypso Rose on stage. Photograph: Philip Ryalls

Dobet Gnahoré from the Ivory Coast is another charismatic singer-songwriter poised for crossover success. Her new album Miziki (LA Café) is a mostly restrained affair, with her cool, soulful vocals matched against a wash of guitars, electronica and percussion, though the driving title track should allow a demonstration of her celebrated dance skills when she appears at Womad. From Trinidad and Tobago, there’s So Calypso! (Because) from the remarkable Calypso Rose. Now in her late 70s, she follows her award-winning collaboration with Manu Chao two years ago with a set that matches her own compositions against songs that have inspired her, including a powerful treatment of the Nat King Cole lament Calypso Blues, in which a Trinidadian immigrant questions the American dream and longs for home.

Contributor

Robin Denselow

The GuardianTramp

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