20. Fenfo - Fatoumata Diawara
The title of Fatoumata Diawara's enchanting second album is a bit of an understatement! The Malian word 'Fenfo" translates into English as 'Something to Say', however, as her album is abundant with her concerns, ideas and (gracefully delivered), arguments, it's clear...Diawara has plenty to say.
The video for the first single 'Nterini' opens with the stark fact that 'In a world of 7 billion people, 1 billion are migrants.' The song brings the tale of two lovers separated by distance to life, her soulful voice expressing the longing and sadness of those so far from one another. It is also one of the finest mixes of traditional roots music with a contemporary production.
The blues guitar that shimmers through the dusty Kokoro is reminiscent of Mali's greatest musical export Tinariwen. The lyric argues that Africans should stop turning their backs on their African heritage but should embrace it. Diawara is equally passionate on the hypnotic Kanou Dan Ye, which protests against the ancient tradition that forbids people from different groups from marrying.
There are moments of absolute joy on the album - the elevating Negue Negue is a simple call for everyone to share their happiness, with a ridiculously simple and infectious chorus. Elsewhere, Bonya (Respect), is the most conventional pop tune here, although it's pretty feels lightweight alongside other tracks.
Frequently, it's the simplest arrangements that are the most effective. Mama (dedicated to both parents), weaves her breathtakingly sad voice around a minimal acoustic guitar and string arrangement. The album's highlight though is the anguished Don Do that closes the set, a six line reflection on the ache of unrequited love. It's loneliness amplified by the solo guitar and cello that accompany her.
On Fenfo, Diawara offers her wise words on family, heritage, love and respect. It is an ambitious album, which is bound together by the vivid musical interpretations of her band and her own soul stirring voice. Fatoumata Diawara has something to say, the best thing we can do is to listen.
Jason Lewis is a Birmingham based music, movie and arts obsessive. Jason's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.