Fatoumata Diawara ‘Fenfo’ CD/DIG (Montuno/Shanachie) 4/5

Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara endeared herself to world roots fans with her performance at Africa Oyé in Liverpool several summers ago. At the time, it was rather her terrific debut on World Circuit, ‘Fatou’ (2010), that became required listening and she followed that up with a surprise duet recording with Cuban pianist, Roberto Fonseca.

Now, Diawara returns with a world fusion hybrid that retains the essence of her West African roots and of the Malian blues in particular, while at the same time subtly interweaving elements of western music. Produced by Pierre Juarez, the album has an overall pared down feel and that is in fact reflected in the slow build up of the song, ‘Nterini’, which has an acoustic folk flavour in the guitar riff and sparse bass drum accompaniment, complete with collective hand claps. In some respects, it is strangely reminiscent of Ricky Lee Jones’, ‘Chuck E’s in love’. That 1970s parallel is continued further on, ‘Ou Y’an Ye’, with gentle acoustic guitar, soft keyboards, but then the number goes up a notch or two in intensity with the combined entrance of percussion and wah-wah guitar. What really comes across is how well producer Juarez has allowed the music to breathe organically, as on, ‘Takamba’, which flows effortlessly with talking drum in hot pursuit. For added variety, another number,’Dibi bo’, has a light reggae influence in the use of rhythm guitar, and indeed a tranquil insouciance permeates the song while the temperature is a good deal funkier on, ‘Negue negue’, which is a real favourite of this writer and that oh so catchy chorus makes it a leading contender for a single release. A somewhat passé pop-rock crossover is attempted on, ‘Bonya’, with electric drum and western drums both in attendance. However, far more convincing is the title track that has the emotive Malian blues seeping through and is beautifully laid back as is the song, ‘Kanou dan Yen’, with a decidedly echo-bound intro and the collective sounds of kora, bass guitar and percussion to ensure a gradual build up of intensity. This is one of those understated records that ever so gently gets under the skin, and that is testimony to the excellent work of singer and producer.

A fine return for Fatoumata Diawara with an extensive European and North American tour bringing her to the UK during November.

NOV 19 MON Sage Gateshead, United Kingdom
NOV 20 TUE EartH (Hackney Arts Centre) TEME TAN London, United Kingdom
NOV 21 WED Fiddlers Club Bristol, United Kingdom
NOV 22 THU Band on the Wall Manchester, United Kingdom
NOV 24 SAT Belgrave Music Hall Leeds, United Kingdom

Tim Stenhouse