HYDERABAD: “If there is something we can protect today it’s our language. Our clothes, food, music and food, these four things let us say we are African so that’s why defending it is important for me,” says singer Fatoumata Diawara aka Fatou, a native of the Ivory Coast who was born to Malian parents. She is best known for her song Mali-Ko (Peace for Mali) where she collaborated with 13 Malian artistes at a time when music was banned by her country’s Islamic group. “For me music is like mathematics. One, two, three, it’s the same everywhere. There is a reason it’s called a universal language,” grins Fatou.
Though her songs are in her native Bambara which may not make sense to most, the essence of the songs will definitely leave an impact on the listeners. Her songs ‘Boloko’ which speak of female genital mutilation and Peace are a haunting mix of beats which take their origin from her ancestral home Wassoulou, akin to American Blues. “My lyrics are very personal, some women will cover one story and leave it for producers, backing vocals to take over. But for me it’s very important that I’m able to find my identity through the music. So everything from the lyrics, to the arrangement, the acoustics is done by me alone,” shares Fatou as she sits coiled in the chair at the hotel she is staying at.
“I’m trying to fight for women and freedom to do what you want to do. While in India, I see many women on stage singing and dancing, it is not so in my country. We need more women on stage there. My picking up the guitar and learning music on my own was a daring thing for me. My music is a way to highlight the problems of Mali especially the issues faced by women,” elaborates Fatou who is visiting India a second time.
With white cowrie shells adorning her plaits and a simple outfit of plain slacks and a turtleneck whose monotony she breaks with a multi-coloured stole, she is a striking woman. But life wasn’t easy for the 32-year old singer. As a child, she was sent to live with her aunt in Bamako after she refused to go to school. Little did she know that it would be the turning point in her life. She was given a lead role by director Cheick Omar Sissoko in his film La Genese and thus started her journey. “Though my family was not happy initially with my choice; they respect me now and are very proud of what I have achieved. My country people are also very proud and they know me now. I’m the youngest artist from Mali to have traveled the world bringing the issues we face to the fore,” reflects Fatou.
The Paris-based artist who writes her own lyrics is now working on her album with Cuban jazz pianist Roberto Fonseca which she describes as “very special”. “It’s a very special album as we have combined Malian root music and Cuban root music in the album and it has received rave reviews from the 13 gigs that we have played in different cities of Europe,” quips Fatou who will be performing at the Blackberry Sharp Nights at Durgam Cheruvu today.