‘Fatou’ is the short form for Fatoumata or Fatouma where I come from. Her name alone has a long history within Islamic cultures: a city was named Fatimah in Portugal during the Moorish period; Fatimah is the name of the beloved daughter of Prophet Muhammad, whose husband, Ali, did not marry again until her death, a point of contention amongst Islamic scholars. The picture of Fatimah, thus, is one both of innocence and power. Fatoumata Diawara, a singer who performs in the popular music of Wassoulou, exudes such power and innocence. She has been hailed by World Music connoisseur Banning Eyre as a “welcome arrival in Mali’s musical pantheon,” yet her Fatou LP is full of the adventurousness of an artiste at the start of their career.
The album’s songs belongs to an artiste who is perhaps “Too Young to Go Steady,” as Jimmy McHugh’s jazz ballad is called. While the music is meditative on “Wililé”, it is tense on “Sowa”. The music ensemble goes from the seasoned drumming of Tony Allen, to the masterful kora-playing of Toumani Diabété. The relentlessness of the album leaves one swept up in the pleasant flux of old and new. Even with Fatou’s grace she is described by Eyre as “headstrong” and “rebellious”. In this sense, there are moments on the album, such as in the bold inquiry of “Sowa”, which feel strong-willed; while the quiet waltz of “Wililé”, feels more graceful. It is this duality of character that makes the album pointedly ambitious and challenging. The variety in “Fatou” gives the album an unusual scope, drawing comparisons with Mali’s musical pantheon. Specifically, the protest song “Kele”, on the rights of women, raises comparison with the lyrics and vocal timbres of Oumou Sangaré; the rocking guitar pulse of “Bakonob”’ brings to mind the cool funk of Amadou & Mariam. Fatou achieves an effortless debut with her self-titled album, yet this is not the last word on this adventurous singer.