The huge domed chamber of London’s Roundhouse rocked to the Soukadelic sounds of Staff Benda Bilili and melted at the charms of Fatoumata Diawara
Fatoumata Diawara opened the gig with a remarkable performance, just her and a guitar. Whether the rest of the band were left behind for artistic or financial reasons is hard to say but it was the perfect introduction to this unique Malian talent. There is a multitude of female singers in Mali (many like her from Wassoulou) but very few who play guitar publicly and even fewer who would feel comfortable filling a big venue on their own. Her style is entirely personal and fresh, think Rokia Traore meets Tracey Chapman perhaps at least in attitude. With the backing of her record label, World Circuit, she is sure to become a well known name in the next few years, knocking audiences down at festivals with the power of her voice and seducing them on her recordings.
The venue was full and sporting a younger audience than at many other comparable events and they were there to see the inspirational members of Staff Benda Bilili blast out their souped up soukous and Linganalised rock. These guys know just how to get an audience eating out of their hands and an anthropologist of dance (if there is such a thing) would have delighted in the myriad ways the audience took their dance moves and applied them to the music coming at them, I know I certainly did.
I wondered if the turn out was down to having a good back story (publicised through the award-winning documentary ‘Benda Bilili’), the support of a good promoter (Serious) or just the fact that this is music you can and even must move to when you hear it. Perhaps it’s all three. Whatever the case, a night like that always gives me hope.
As I write this, the tour continues so catch them if you can.
And Fatoumata’s Kanou EP is out this month. Check her out on Facebook