Her music is the blues, she says. However, Fatoumata Diawara should not be taken literally when she says that. London Ko, his most recent album, does not sound like it was created on the banks of the Mississippi. Nor does it follow in the wake of the Malian blues, another well-established tradition.
His blues is first and foremost a state of mind. “A way to turn what should make you cry into a smile,” she explained to La Presse in 2021. Sete, London Ko’s third song, recorded with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, is a good example: her background sadness is among other things alleviated by a children’s choir. On songs like Nsera (in duet with Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorrillaz) and Seguen, it’s more the groove that makes his blues become warm colors.
London Ko — for London/Bamako — is an often cheerfully funky record, full of twirling keyboards and accents. It’s both more pop, much less folk, and even stronger in groove than what the Malian singer has accustomed us to in the past. And this momentum notably involves multiple collaborations.
Besides the one with Damon Albarn, producer of part of the disc, she sings with neo-soul singer Angie Stone, Nigerian star Yemi Alade, Cuban pianist Roberto Fonseca and Ghanaian rapper M. anifest. His collaboration with -M-, who produced his album Fenfo (2018), turns out to be the weakest of the lot: it is limited to an overly precious whispered narration, similar to what he did on Manitoumani, a song from a previous collaboration with Fatoumata Diawara, Sidiki Diabaté and the great kora player Toumani Diabaté.
This track aside, London Ko is a record full of enthusiasm and colorful arrangements. Acoustic instruments (guitars, piano), electric ones (bounce bass, electric guitars) and keyboards dance hand in hand. Fatoumata Diawara achieves her goal: this record cannot fail to make the body and the ears smile.