Fatoumata Diawara at New Century

Johnny James, Managing Editor
Fatoumata Diawara by Alun Be.
Fatoumata Diawara by Alun Be.

Fatoumata Diawara at New Century, Manchester 2 February 2024 Tickets from £20 — Book now

For over a decade, Fatoumata Diawara has been a standard-bearer of modern African music. Respecting tradition while furrowing her own, progressive path, the Malian singer and guitarist’s music is a joy on record and a revelation live.

Released in 2011, Fatoumata’s debut album Fatou made her one of most hyped African artists on the planet. Released following some great collaborations – she performed and recorded with the likes of AfroCubism, Orchestre Poly-Rythmo and Herbie Hancock – Fatou represented a gleaming new beginning. It opened with ‘Kanou’, a love song turned cold, before the jazz-funk of ‘Sowa’ introduced us to the groovy reverie that the Paris-born artist is now synonymous with.

2018’s follow-up ramped everything up. Spanning Afropop, funk and blues, the effervescent Fenfo won a Grammy Award nomination for Best World Music Album. Largely sung in the Malian Wassoulou language, it covered universal subjects like respect, humility, love, migration and family. ‘Kanou Dan Yen’ was an early standout. Featuring an airy Kora and soulful vocals, the track lambasted traditions that still prevent different ethnic groups in Africa intermarrying. ‘Negue Negue’, by contrast, was an upbeat, funk-indebted dance track. But it was the album’s opener, ‘Nterini’, with its hip-swinging funk guitars and swirling, layered vocals, that left the biggest impression.

Fast forward five years and 2023 saw Fatoumata release her third album, co-produced and partly co-written with blur’s Damon Albarn (the two have been friends and collaborators since she appeared on his 2012 Africa Express tour). It’s called London Co – a neologism representing an imagined continent bringing Europe and Africa together. It sees Fatoumata continue her quest to reinvent traditional African music, combining it with afrobeat, jazz, pop, electronic and hip hop influences in a chameleonic fusion of modern synthetic sounds and traditional Malian rhythms.

The synth-powered ‘Nsera’, featuring Damon Albarn, is a joyful opener, and will appeal to fans of LCD Soundsystem and Ibibio Sound Machine. Another highlight comes next with the funkier ‘Somaw’, a song about the importance of love and support from home and family, featuring Angie Stone. The dancefloor-leaning ‘Massa Den’, made with -M-, pushes contemporary production to the forefront, adding an ethereal shimmer to Fatoumata’s ever-soulful songwriting. You’ll notice that these tracks are all collabs, and this feels enmeshed in the mission statement of the record – that is, to bridge cultures and bring Europe and Africa together. It just so happens that the music is absolutely fantastic.

If you’ve been lucky enough to catch Fatoumata live you’ll know that her performances are brimming with energy; Fatoumata and her band belong on the stage, and together they radiate pure love for life. You’d be hard pressed to find a better way of warming the old cockles this winter than catching her debut performance at New Century on 2 February.

Fatoumata Diawara at New Century, Manchester 2 February 2024 Tickets from £20 Book now

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