A full endorsement on ‘Judgement Day’ – fascinating rhythms from Mali: Fatoumata Diawara, review

Award-winning international musician Fatoumata Diawara came to Chalk in Brighton on Wednesday (February 5) on a short UK tour to promote her latest album, Fenfo.

Friday, 7th February 2020, 2:52 pm
Fatoumata Diawara. Photo by Aida Muluneh

These were songs to warm the soul on a chilly February evening.

Notwithstanding an element of hardcore fans, few could have expected to witness such a show. In no-nonsense fashion, the band members assembled and struck up the first track ‘Don Do’ to set the rhythm while the audience found their feet.

There was a wait for Fatoumata to appear, if slightly predictable, but the crowd cheered and...wow, what an entrance. She was dressed in a sparkling silver skirt, African jewellery and what should, I think, be described as a stunning, white headdress. If hats were rated academically, this one had just plummeted Jamiroquai down to Kindergarten.

The tempo was high and in-between the early songs Diawara deployed her charm adroitly. It’s not hard to see why she has achieved success in film as well as music; this is a truly gifted performer.

While the songs were sung in Bambara, the Malian dialect, Fatoumata turned obstacle into opportunity to educate us on the substance of her lyrics covering politics, education, or lack of, and gender equality. There was no shortage of ‘protest songs’ from this ‘protest singer’ (Edwin Collins take note) to which the audience gave a resounding endorsement.

As the concert unfolded you could appreciate that this was a thoughtfully constructed setlist consummately delivered. Her raspy and effortless voice turned to ‘Ou Y’an Ye ‘and then the dance infused ‘Kanou Dan Yen’ and what the venue lacked in layout and acoustics for live music, the crowd’s willingness to live the experience atoned for this comfortably.

Inevitably there was plenty of material from the new album. However, as a few late stragglers drifted in, Fatoumata raised the stakes and filled the air with anticipation. She introduced the African-American spiritual song ‘Sinnerman’, notably recorded by Nina Simone, describing a sinner attempting to hide from divine justice on judgement day. The rhythm was locomotive-like, incantatory with a sense of ritualism to it. Fatoumata removed the guitar, held up like an emblem, for show or maybe to signify solidarity for her people? Folded-over forwards, her head swayed rhythmically, an indulgence before the band built to a climax. Then – pow! – the headdress came off to a cacophony of coloured beads, hair swirling, lights pulsating, aerobic movement and sound. The crowd could do nothing but whoop their applause.

There was time to spotlight the impressive talent of the band: JB (Percussion), Yacouba (Guitar) and splendid solos from Arekio Smith (Keyboards) and Sekou Bah (Bass).

Fatoumata Diawara knows her worth and has an impressive back catalogue, and this short tour will bring her right to the fore of world music, and deservedly so.

Highly recommended. Fatoumata Diawara performs at Victoria Park in May. Tickets are available here.

Stuart Large is a freelance writer and reviewer. Follow him on Twitter @boyaboutsound.

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