A bolt from the blue. Back in 2011... 
... wearing brightly coloured clothing, with a megawatt smile and just an electric guitar slung laconically over her shoulder for company, Fatoumata Diawara nevertheless packed quite a punch playing solo at the Slaughtered Lamb in Clerkenwell, as she previewed songs from Fatou.

Featuring her vocals and guitar and with guests such as London’s Seb Rochford on the track ‘Bakonoba’ the album was recorded in Paris and London although Diawara was actually born in Ivory Coast and raised in Mali and was Paris-based.

Her voice it struck me back then resembled Rokia Traore’s and her guitar accompaniment had something of the loose twanging bluesy style of a Djelimady Tounkara.

Diawara’s songs were concerned with themes like a woman’s right to choose her marriage partner, or the difficulties Africans face when they leave their homeland, and her style has a plaintiff eerily beautiful way with it that despite the language barrier manages to convey a certain languid emotion which is so effective. Wasn't she so ahead of her time?

Fast forward to 2015...
... this time not a million miles from Clerkenwell, the Barbican, a much bigger crowd and my and how: Fatou was playing the big hall with Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca.

The band had a swaying infectious feel to it driven hard by Fonseca who hammered the keys hard, rocking his body head bobbing up and down at his most exuberant while Diawara’s amazing voice cuts the air like a dagger.

Her startling back-of-the-throat yodelly quickfire rattle punctuating the night air from time to time added an unearthly signature touch sending the crowd wild (you could hear people imitating the unique sound as they left the concert hall later on). Highlights for me were ‘Sowa’, ‘Clandestin’ and ‘Mandela,’ on the latter song, a tribute to Nelson Mandela, Diawara threw off her head scarf, the beads of her hair flying all over her face as she head bobbed joyously.  

May 2018... and Fenfo (Wagram/Montuno). The brand new album. My, my my. 

Stephen Graham 

Playing Hackney Arts Centre, London on 20 November.