Fatoumata Diawara: Fenfo

February 5, 2019

Singing Words of Wisdom

Listening Post 187. The Malian singer-songwriter Fatoumata Diawara is often described in terms of her voice—soulful, sensuous, poignant, passionate—but perhaps the foundational qualities she brings to her music are wisdom and independence. She knows the value of tradition because she has tested its boundaries—at 19 she defied her family, avoiding an arranged marriage by running off to join a French theater company. She understands the importance of home from spending time away. For seven years after her 2011 debut album she performed around the world and collaborated with other artists; played a key role in the Oscar-nominated film Timbuktu and formed a supergroup of Malian musicians to sing for peace during the country’s civil war. Fenfo (Something to Say), her second album, is a vibrant blend of Wassoulou tradition and experimentation, Malian folk, Afropop, blues, jazz, rock, funk and a delicate electronic-acoustic balance. Music choices aside, the deeper message is in her lyrics (sung in Bambara) about humility, family and building better societies. Nterini  (My Love/My Confidant) evokes African migration from the viewpoint of a woman whose husband goes to work abroad (video 1). Bonya (Respect) is a rock-edged song of values (video 2). She gives some subjects binary scrutiny: The irony in the title track is that while Diawara always has something to say, her parents didn’t say much to prepare her for the world’s turbulence (video 3), but she also pays loving tribute to them in the bluesy Mama. In Kokoro (Heritage) she expresses pride in African civilization; in contrast, Kanou Dan Yen (Our Love Has No Future) decries taboos against inter-ethnic marriage. Heartbreak takes a lighter turn in Don Do, about a woman who follows a handsome man (video 4), the song’s English title—One Fine Day—suggesting that even a wrong turn can inspire the kind of optimism that defines this monumental voice. (Montuno/Shanachie)

Note 1: Fenfo received a 2019 Grammy nomination in the Best World Music Album category.

Related Post: Fatoumata Diawara: Fatou, Listening Post 8, August 19, 2015.

All songs by Fatoumata Diawara

Produced by Fatoumata Diawara and Mattieu Chedid (aka –M-)
Co-produced by Pierre Juarez
Mattieu Chedid: electric guitar, organ
Vincent Ségal: cello
Toumani Diabaté, Sidiki Diabaté: kora
Salif Diarra: kamel n’goni
Etienne Mbappé, Sekou Bah: bass
Mokhtar Samba: drums
Eric Yelkoumi, Pascal Danaë, Sekou Bah: guitar
Bakari Dembele, Zé Luis Nascimento: percussion
Pierre Juarez, Yaron Herman: keyboards


Nterini/My Love, My Confidant
Lyrics & Music: Fatoumata Diawara
(from the Bambara lyrics)
My love has gone far away and may never come back
He has left his family and friends behind and gone away
He may never come back/What am I to do? He was my friend and my confidant
How is he? Just let me know how you are
You have gone to a faraway land/I miss you greatly
You have always been my guide/And I love you with all my heart
I want to know

My love has taken off/Who knows when he will come back?
My darling has gone far away/And may never come back again
I want to know

He has gone to live in a faraway country/He has not told me anything
It was not the rough morning weather/That prevented me from seeing him
Nor the heat of the midday sun/Not even the dangers of going out at dusk
Because I could not sleep well if I didn’t see you


Lyrics & Music: Fatoumata Diawara
Let’s show each other respect at work/
We should show respect while having fun
When youngsters play together/They should do it with respect for each other
When children play together/They should respect one another

Let’s respect each other; let’s respect each other

A relationship does not work without respect
There are so many countries….
Let’s not make other people cry

Let’s respect each other; let’s respect each other


Fenfo/Something to Say
Lyrics & Music: Fatoumata Diawara
Such is the world, they did not tell me anything/
I’m calling my beloved mother Djeneba
Such is the world, they did not tell me anything 

Friends are killing each other every day/But they did not tell me anything
Neighbors wish each other harm every day/But they did not tell me anything
Brothers are killing each other every day/But mother, you did not tell me anything
Siblings tear into each other every day in this world/But father, you did not tell me anything
Friends act hatefully toward one other/But you did not tell me anything
Such is the world, they did not tell me anything/They did not tell me anything 


Don Do/One Fine Day
Lyrics & Music: Fatoumata Diawara
One day, I saw this handsome man pass in front of me
That day, I saw a fine young man pass in front of me
I followed the man until his destination
Once we got there, I told him I loved him

But his heart already belongs to a young girl



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