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Fatoumata Diawara Talks Edinburgh International Festival
Patrick Clarke , July 27th, 2021 10:47

Ahead of her show at Edinburgh International Festival, Fatoumata Diawara tells tQ about her return to live performance, and what to expect from her next

It's no surprise that the Mali-born, now Italy-based musician, activist and actress Fatoumata Diawara was straight back on the road as coronavirus restrictions began to ease across Europe this summer. Her work has always been defined by a sense of movement, whether through music that hops effortlessly between genres and disciplines, her physical collaborations with musicians of all stripes and nationalities, and sometimes simply in theme; among many, many other issues, her latest album Fenfo – Something To Say, written and recorded across different countries, explored modern emigration

Even in lockdown, her music has strived to cross borders. Recent single Ambé, a gorgeous and drifting track, saw Diawara enlist a host of female musicians of African origin - Dianne Reeves, China Moses, Somi, Terri Lyne Carrington, Angelique Kidjo, Mayra Andrade, Inna Modja and Thandiswa Mazwai – all taking turns on vocals in a powerful rebuff to the fragmentation and isolation of the pandemic.

There is no replica, however, for the connective power of performance, live and direct, which Diawara brings to the UK next month as that ceaseless schedule brings her to the Edinburgh International Festival. She and her band perform at Edinburgh Park on August 27. To find out more about her return to live performance, new material, and plans for the Scotland show, tQ caught up with Diawara via email.

tQ: How have you found the return to live performance over the last few weeks?

Fatoumata Diawara: The experience of being on stage of the last few weeks, it’s like being renewed, born again. So I’m feeling stronger. It’s very different to go to the audience, because people are sitting most of the time, so it is quite interesting, and at the same time a big challenge for us on stage. We’re trying to rediscover ourselves again. Of course, during the lockdown I was thinking how I could come back on stage. So there are new vocals in the show, and the performance is a little bit different.

tQ: Has it been strange playing to socially distanced crowds?

It was very strange for us, at the beginning, the distance between the audience and us. I was like, 'How can I adapt myself to these new situations?' At the beginning it was very strange, but now it’s starting to be quite normal, we’re adapting ourselves and the audience has as well.

Do you view Ambé as a one-off single, or is there more new music to come? If so, what can we expect from you next?

Ambé is a single, there may be one or two more singles, then the new songs coming [after that] will be on my next album. We are not going to wait too long for the next album, I’m recording, preparing new stuff, I’m very excited that people will get to listen to them as soon as possible.

I understand that that song was written during lockdown, and was a direct response to the difficulties of that time. Has COVID been influencing you with other pieces of work?

Making this song, during the lockdown was really necessary and important for me. Because I was was wondering, what could I do? What could I do to be the voice of how we can represent unity and peace, giving back love to people, to the world, and reminding them that we are all together and all one? It was necessary for me to release this single. I’m super, super happy for that chance. We were all excited to do this work. It was the right time for us to join with each other and try to share something all together. All the ladies were super happy to work on the project, we were very, very happy.

What did you learn from working with all the different vocalists that appeared on Ambé?

That it’s love, love and also sharing, seeing my sisters, talking with them, taking time to work with other people. Most of the time with our own work it’s very tough, we spend a lot of time with ourselves, our own projects. You don’t have the time to open your soul to different artists. So even if I often make a lot of collaborations, this history with the ladies was very important for me. Because they’re my sisters. Most of the time I work with men, I didn’t have a chance to work withwomen. So for me it was a big challenge because they’re all strong, powerful, beautiful voices. At the start I wanted to call the project ‘leaders’, because I’m a really big fan of all the female leaders in the world. This was like a dream coming true. I’m very proud of myself and all the sisters who really accepted me to join me for this challenge.

What can we expect from your show at the Edinburgh International Festival?

I want people to feel happy after the show. I want them to feel totally different by the end, that’s the most important thing for me. The feeling of the audiences after the show. I really hope that people will end up feeling free in their mind, a free soul, a kind of healing you know? I would like to bring this good feeling to the people of Edinburgh.

Fenfo was created across different countries and continents, not being able to travel must have been particularly difficult?

Yes, of course. I had like two years before the first lockdown, and luckily we started touring very early, so we’d been touring a lot before the firs t lockdown. I could make two American tours, a lot of the big festivals in Europe, and now we’re trying to continue with all the places we couldn’t go. We’re trynig to adapt ourselves, coming back to all these new situations, you know. But we had good press, nice things before the lockdown, so hopefully it’s going to continue!

Fatoumara Diawara plays Edinburgh International Festival on Friday, August 27. Find out more and find tickets here