Fatoumata Diawara’s career continues to explode. The 30-year-old singer from Mali, with the golden voice and charisma to match, has been very busy lately. She released her debut album last September; in and around creating that record, she found the time to collaborate with Herbie Hancock, Oumou Sangare, Damon Albarn, Flea and Tony Allen, among others.
The latest collaborator you’ll find her sharing harmonies with is soul singer Bobby Womack. His new album drops on Tuesday, June 12. That very day, Fatou will be making her North American debut, performing in Toronto as part of Luminato. She’ll be opening for super group AfroCubism, and then adding vocals to their performance following her own.
Check out the entrance she makes in this live video of Rocket Juice and the Moon, from Marseilles (at 1:15):
We recently asked Fatou a few questions about her music.
Q: How does it feel to be the most "in demand" West African female singer right now?
A: This is a big responsibility, it's positive, it makes me want to keep fighting.
Q: What have you learned from performing with the super group AfroCubism?
A: This is a great chance to play with great musicians like Toumani Diabaté, the group Buena Vista Social Club, Djelimady [Tounkara], Bassekou Kouyate.
Q: Of all the people you've collaborated with in the past two years, who's been your favourite? And why?
A: I have no preference because each project has its own interesting feature. They are all very rewarding for me because I learn many things through the various meetings, including one with Herbie Hancock, which was a musical meeting between Malian tradition and contemporary music.
Watch Fatou sing with Oumou Sangaré on Herbie Hancock's "Imagine" (Fatou is in the yellow dress and comes in around the four-minute mark):
Q: Where did you find the emotional strength to flee Mali and ignore your parents' desire for you to marry and stay away from the performing arts?
A: I do not know where the force comes from, but what I do believe in, is my little angel who accompanies me in all my decisions. I think that's who guides me thus far and I thank him.
Q: Have your parents forgiven you for this?
A: I do not have to give them forgiveness. I am not at war with them and I thank them…. They are very proud of me today. I am very well received at home.
Q: Who has been the biggest musical mentor in your life?
A: My aunt Fanta Ndiaye Diawara, who is a singer. And the fact that I was really pushed to sing at weddings in Mali when I was a kid. And Cheick Tidiane Seck, Oumou Sangaré and Abdoulaye Traoré, who are people who made me work and taught me a lot.
Q: I've read that Rokia Traoré convinced you to learn to play guitar. What is your relationship with her like?
A: She is my big sister. We love and respect many.
Q: What is your advice now, for young West African women looking for a future in music or theatre?
A: I advise them to fight and to work very, very hard. There is a job that pays. She must learn to be independent, and not automatically count on men.
Q: Your life story reads like a film script. When can we see you play yourself in a movie called Fatou?
A: [Laughs] I hope that happens soon. Because I want to make films in the future and be able to tell many stories concerning my life and those of others.
This interview has been edited and condensed from the original.
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on Jun 11, 2012