words by Patty Riek
photos by Jon Bauer
Fatoumata Diawara and her four piece band illustrated what it means to part of a global community to a sold out audience at SFJAZZ on April 16, 2023: with red electric guitar in hand, Diawara’s bogolanfini inspired skirt juxtaposed with the Persian influenced carpet on stage surrounded by the modern architecture of Miner Auditorium as she and the band played a 90 minute set that melded the Wassoulou musical tradition with rock, jazz, and soul.
Diawara alternated between playing guitar and focusing solely on her singing. Using own pre-recorded voice looped as backup vocals, and a prominent percussive sound to enhance her own bluesy guitar playing.
Singing mostly in Bambara, Diawara spoke to the audience in English including a moving commentary about Female Genital Mutilation. Acknowledging her own excision, she is determined to “save the next generation” exhorting people to “revisit our traditions.”
While opposing harmful traditions, Diawara embraces and elevates others even as she reimagines them. For several parts of the show, Diawara set her guitar aside and used a whistle as an accompaniment to sing and dance in storytelling fashion. At one point, doffing her red heels, her bejeweled ankles exposed as her comparatively staid guitar playing posture transformed into expressive singing and dancing. With a talisman in one hand, Diawara used a white scarf over her head to perhaps invoke another aspect of herself as in the tradition of the griot.
Throughout the show many audience members were itching to dance During the parts of the show when Diawara was dancing herself, a number of people lined the back of the auditorium to join her in the almost trance-like ecstatic dance. With Diawara’s invitation “Let’s go to the desert of Mali” nearly the entire audience was on its feet.
It was only fitting that Fatoumata Diawara closed her show with a “dance along” encore reminding us of the power of music to connect us. As she said, “music is life.”