Fatoumata Diawara
Photo by Aïda Muluneh; Courtesy of City Winery

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Fatoumata Diawara at City Winery

Malian singer, guitarist, and actor Fatoumata Diawara exudes courage, charisma, and vision. When Diawara was young, her parents dubbed her rebellious and sent her to an aunt in Bamako, Mali, to be raised in a traditional manner. But at age 18, Diawara jetted off to France to become an actor. She briefly went back to Mali to film a movie, but soon fled back to France to avoid being forced into an arranged marriage by her family. Instead of getting married, Diawara took up the electric guitar and started performing her own hybrid blend of music, drawing from the emotional call-and-response compositions from the Wassoulou region of Mali as well as global pop. In recent years, Diawara’s alternately husky and sweet vocals have been heard not only with her own band on NPR’s Tiny Desk, but as a guest vocalist with Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz, and electronic dance duo Disclosure. On her 2018 Grammy-nominated album, Fenfo—which means “something to say”—Diawara shows off her vocal range in the Bambara language, and an Afro-psychedelic style on the electric guitar. Matched with her band’s guitar, bass, keyboard, and drums, the result is often loud and polyrhythmic. But the band also knows how to be subtler and to allow the vocal melodies and lead guitar patterns to shine. Diawara often takes on difficult subjects in her lyrics—female genital mutilation on “Boloko,” the heartbreak when a boyfriend feels forced to migrate for work in “Nterini,” and fundamentalist terrorists in northern Mali in “Mali-ko (Peace/La Paix).” Diawara, an exuberant live performer, also merges seriousness with joy in “Negue Negue,” in which she urges young people to join hands in unity, and chants, “let’s have fun” in the song title’s chorus. Fatoumata Diawara performs at 7:30 p.m. on March 7 at City Winery, 1350 Okie St. NE. citywinery.com. $25–$38. Masks required.