Fatoumata Diawara mesmerised audiences in the Parkzaal at the Musis Theatre in Arnhem on 26 May. The concert, held to promote her latest album ‘London Ko,’ attracted a well-filled hall in which audience radiated excitement and anticipation. Known for her powerful vocals, unique blend of traditional Malian music with contemporary influences, and charismatic stage presence, Diawara did not disappoint in Arnhem either.
As the lights dimmed, the band took its position and the applause swelled expectantly. Diawara started the show with a grooving and swinging number where she and the band took their time to take in the audience. Playing on her familiar red Epiphone SG guitar, it was soon noticeable how masterfully Diawara controlled the band with short head nods. From the first note, it was clear that her vocals were nothing short of stunning. With a voice that transitioned effortlessly from soulful to playful, Diawara dominated the stage with her mesmerising presence. She looked beautifully like some kind of Karaba character from the fairy tale Kirikou, but a Karaba who had defected to Luke Skywalker’s side. What a beautiful and spectacular appearance.
The band supported her on every note and showed exceptional musicianship. They infused the music with energy and passion and created a seamless harmony between Diawara’s vocals and their instrumental prowess. Diawara herself has now also taken her guitar playing to a higher level, and she at times soared to the stars. The sound engineering was commendable, with every note crisp and clear. Furthermore, the lighting design added an extra layer of magic to the performance, with expertly crafted visuals that enhanced the mood and atmosphere of each song. The drummer and bassist in particular managed to steal the show with their tasteful playing and spectacular solos
The audience was fully engaged throughout the concert. Singing along, clapping and dancing to the infectious rhythms, the audience became an integral part of the musical experience. Diawara effortlessly connected with her fans and radiated warmth that enchanted the entire venue. It was clear that this concert was a celebration of Diawara’s music and the sense of community she cherishes.
The setlist included a mix of songs from Diawara’s previous albums, and the well-received cover version of Nina Simone’s ‘ Feeling Good, which Diawara, by singing partly in Bambara, completely moulded to her liking. . Her music, a fusion of traditional Malian sounds with contemporary influences, transcended language barriers. Singing in Bambara, French and English, Diawara’s lyrics touched on political and feminist themes, appealing to a diverse audience. Diawara shared the audience with her own personal struggle, on the sadly still topical issue of female genital mutilation. A fate that Diawara herself has also suffered, In a haunting and personal speech, she called attention to this problem. Bravely. And Diawara got the energy back tenfold from the audience when they then deployed ‘Sete’, which is accompanied on the album by the Brooklyn Children Choir.
Diawara had a special way of controlling loops of background vocals via foot pedals. This allowed the band to sharply lay down the songs without completely restricting musical freedom on stage with backing tracks. Unprecedented to see this technique used in this way.
Towards the end of the performance, the energy peaked with a rousing version of ‘N’seri’ one of her most popular songs. Diawara then entered the stage to perform another tribal Dogon dance, which was very well received by the audience, who by now knew no embarrassment, and stood to dance along en masse. The audience then burst into applause and stood up and gave her a standing ovation. Diawara’s presence remained even after she left the stage, as the audience enjoyed an unforgettable performance.
Looking back at the concert, it becomes clear why Fatoumata Diawara is considered a force of nature. Here was the Malian Musical Matriarchy on stage . A great band, driven by a phenomenal frontwoman who is only getting stronger and stronger in recent years.
In conclusion, Fatoumata Diawara’s concert in the Parkzaal at the Musis Theatre in Arnhem was a night to remember. The band’s exceptional performance, excellent sound quality and impeccable lighting all contributed to the overall excellence of the event. But it was Diawara’s remarkable talent, her ability to engage the audience and sense of unity that made the evening truly exceptional. For anyone lucky enough to see her live, it is an experience highly recommended. Fatoumata Diawara is undeniably an ever-rising star in the music world who, in Arnhem, blurred the lines between ‘ world music’ and an electrifying rock concert.