Fatoumata Diawara Live In Phoenix

by Kevin Wierzbicki

Fatoumata Diawara - April 21, 2023 - Musical Instrument Museum Music Theater, Phoenix

Fatoumata Diawara Live in Phoenix

Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara and her four-piece band put on an exciting show April 21 in the Music Theater at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, a venue with near-perfect acoustics that was the ideal place to experience Diawara's expansive take on traditional West African music with a modern bent. Diawara has a new album called London Ko releasing on May 12 and she previewed a good portion of the album during this show; with the exception of her encore, all cuts came from the forthcoming release.

With her band already at their instruments and playing, Fatoumata strode on stage, plugged in her electric guitar and began singing "Tolon," a lush Afropop number with hints of psychedelic guitar, especially in the song's mid-section. Wearing a colorful long dress and a unique hairpiece that reflected her Mandinka heritage, Diawara had an incredible stage presence that only increased as she sang. With a heavy bass part opening and more psychedelic guitar, "Somaw" had a blues underpinning and Diawara's sensual vocals included some spoken word near the song's end as she pointed skyward before beginning to sing again with her voice soaring to the heavens to which she pointed. Demonstrating how she easily works in various sub-genres, Diawara and her band played two numbers, "Mogokan" and "Seguen," that both showed prog rock influences and reminded of the kind of Africa-informed music that Peter Gabriel has played with Youssou N'Dour.

It was interesting that Diawara, who sang in Bambara but spoke to the crowd in English, utilized a band that played no traditional African instruments, just guitar, bass, drums and keyboard. The buoyant reggae beat of "Sete" belied what the song is about: the horrible practice of female mutilation that is widespread in Mali and other parts of Africa. Diawara spoke about the situation, noting that she is the only one in Mali who is outspoken against the disfigurement, saying she is trying to bring light to the darkness. "We need to put out the garbage and all the things not good for women," she said, adding, "This song is for tomorrow, for my generation." The reggae sound continued during "Dambe" where she took off her guitar and danced around the stage, occasionally adding to the rhythm by blowing a whistle.

The full-blown rocker "Yada" was a highlight late in the show. With popping bass lines, psych guitar and an overall cacophonous sound, the band played as Fatoumata did a stunning twirling dance, a high energy performance where she had removed her ornamental hair piece so her long braids could fly free. The song was so fast and furious that many probably thought it was the show's closing number, but still to come were the blues-informed "Netara," the Afrobeat of "Nsera" (which features Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz fame on the studio version) and the rollicking "Massa Den." The crowd was on its feet and swaying for these songs and the finale of "Anisou," the only cut on the evening that didn't come from London Ko.

Fatoumata Diawara has a few more shows on her North American tour before heading to Europe for a summer-long jaunt. Find a list of her upcoming shows here.

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