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Press Releases Walker Art Center and The Cedar Presend Midwest Debut by Mali’s New Music Sensation Fatoumata Diawara

“The most beguiling talent to hit the world music scene in some time.” —Daily Telegraph (UK)


Minneapolis, March 22, 2013—Catch the Midwest debut by Mali’s new music sensation, who has been wooing critics and lighting up stages around the world with her radiant voice, coolly infectious Afro-pop, and smoking live band. Fatoumata Diawara, aka Fatou, spins elements of jazz and funk into an exquisitely spare yet sensual folk-rock, inflecting it with the rhythms and melodies of Wassoulou, her ancestral song form. Fatoumata Diawara performs Friday, April 12, at 8 pm at The Cedar. Likened to her mentor, Oumou Sangaré, Fatou has been hailed as the next female African songwriter of significance, one who “combines feminist social conscience with effortless melodic charm” (Financial Times).

This performance is copresented with The Cedar. The concert is standing room only.

Diawara was born of Malian parents in the Ivory Coast in 1982. As a child she became a member of her father’s dance troupe and was a popular performer of the wildly flailing didadi dance from Wassoulou, her ancestral home in western Mali. She was an energetic and headstrong girl and at the age of twelve her refusal to go to school finally prompted her parents to send her to live and be disciplined by an aunt in Bamako. She was not to see her parents again for over a decade.

Her aunt was an actress, and a few years after arriving, Diawara found herself on a film set looking after her aunt’s infant child. The film’s director was captivated by Fatou’s adolescent beauty and she was given a one line part in the final scene of the film Taafe Fangan (The Power of Women). This led to her being given a lead role by the celebrated director Cheick Omar Sissoko in his 1999 film La Genèse (Genesis).

At the age of 18, Diawara travelled to Paris to perform the classical Greek role of Antigone on stage. After touring with the production she returned to Mali where she was given the lead in Dani Kouyaté’s popular 2001 film Sia, The Dream of the Python. The film tells the story of a West African legend called Sia, a young girl who defies tradition. To many in Mali, Guinea, Senegal, and Burkina Faso, Diawara is Sia thanks to the film’s enormous success throughout the region.

Offers for further acting roles poured in but Diawara’s family wanted her to settle down and marry and forced her to announce, live on Malian television, that she was abandoning her career as an actress.

In 2002 Jean-Louis Courcoult, the director of the renowned French theatre company Royale de Luxe, traveled to Bamako to offer Diawara a part in his new production. An unmarried woman is considered a minor in Malian society so her family’s permission was required. They refused. After much soul searching Diawara took the daring decision to run away and at Bamako airport she managed to board a plane for Paris, narrowly escaping the pursuit of the police who had been alerted to the girl’s “kidnapping.”


With Royal de Luxe, Fatou performed a variety of roles around the world including tours in Vietnam, Mexico, and throughout Europe. During rehearsals and quiet moments she took to singing backstage for her own amusement. She was overheard by the director and was soon singing solo during the company’s performances. Encouraged by the reception from audiences she began to sing in Parisian clubs and cafés during breaks from touring. Here she met Cheikh Tidiane Seck, the celebrated Malian musician and producer who invited her to travel with him back to Mali to work on two projects as chorus vocalist: Seya, the Grammy Award-nominated album by Mali’s star Oumou Sangare, and Red Earth, the Grammy-winning Malian project by American jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater. When the albums were released, Diawara toured worldwide as singer and dancer with both projects.

On her return to France, Diawara took the role of Karaba in the popular touring musical Kirikou and Karaba. She was encouraged to take the role by her friend Rokia Traoré who also inspired her to take up the guitar: “To me it was a wonderful and daring thing: a Malian girl with an acoustic guitar. Why should the guitar be only for men?” Diawara bought herself a guitar and started to teach herself, and at the same time began to write down her own compositions.


She made the decision to dedicate herself to her passion, music. She worked to complete an album’s worth of songs and started recording demos for which she composed and arranged all the titles, as well as playing guitar, percussion, bass, and singing lead and harmony vocals. An introduction from Oumou Sangare resulted in a record deal with World Circuit and the recording of her debut.

Between recording sessions she found time to collaborate on Damon Albarn’s Africa Express and contribute vocals to albums by Cheikh Lô, AfroCubism, Herbie Hancock’s Grammy-winning Imagine Project, and Orchestra Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou. Most recently, Fatou contributed vocals to the song Nothin’ Can Save Ya, from Bobby Womack’s new album The Bravest Man in the Universe.

Tickets to Fatoumata Diawara are $30 ($25 Walker members) and are available at walkerart.org/tickets or by calling 612.375.7600.

Performing Arts Supporters
The Walker Art Center’s performing arts programs are made possible by generous support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation through the Doris Duke Performing Arts Fund, the William and Nadine McGuire Commissioning Fund, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Producers’ Council
Performing Arts programs and commissions at the Walker are generously supported by members of the Producers’ Council: Russell Cowles; Sage Cowles; Nor Hall and Roger Hale; King’s Fountain/Barbara Watson Pillsbury and Henry Pillsbury; Emily Maltz; Dr. William W. and Nadine M. McGuire; Leni and David Moore, Jr.; Josine Peters; Mike and Elizabeth Sweeney; and Frances and Frank Wilkinson.

Fatoumata Diawara

Photo: Youri Lenquette