Malian Singer Fatoumata Diawara Performs in the Democracy Now! Studio & Discusses the Migrant Crisis

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“In a world of seven billion people, one billion are migrants.” Those are the words that appear at the start of the new music video by our guest, the great Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara. She sings, “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.” The song “Nterini” appears on her new record “Fenfo.” In 2013, she gathered 40 of the best-known Malian musicians to come together to record a song calling for peace in the war-torn country. Diawara joins us in our Democracy Now! studio for a performance and an interview about her life and career, the importance of women in Malian society and the migrant crisis in Europe.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. In a world of 7 billion people, 1 billion are migrants. Those are the words that appear at the start of the new music video by our guest, the great Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara. She sings, “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.” The song, “Nterini,” it appears on her new record, Fenfo. Here is Fatoumata Diawara performing in the Democracy Now! studios.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: [performing “Nterini”]

AMY GOODMAN: “Nterini” by the Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara. She was born in the Ivory Coast to Malian parents in 1982 but raised in Mali. In 2013, she gathered 40 of the best-known Malian musicians to come together to record a song calling for peace in the war-torn country. The track was called “Mali-ko,” or “Peace.” Fatoumata joins in our New York studio.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s wonderful to have you with us. So, you’ve written this song, “Nterini,” about migrants.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about migrants and why you feel the world must know.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: You know, so, it was so hard in those few last days, you know, because it’s like people were talking only about migrations, which is the reality, but the way it was doing, it was really bad, a little bit bad, for the images of this new generation in Africa who wants to change things. We are dreaming to the new Africa. We are dreaming a new—to think how we can make better this continent, how we can introduce Africa in the best way. So I was telling myself, “OK, you can keep telling about this kind of subject, but in which way? In the bad way? Just young people crying, children still asking for help and all those things?”

You said, “OK”—I said, “OK, don’t do this. Try to approach this subject, but in a different way, introducing this young generation, who are trying to travel, but they are not traveling because they are poor only.” The only reason is not because of poverty or war or famine. It’s also because this young generation needs to know about what’s going on outside of their country. They need to learn. They can’t learn everything at school. Some of experiences, you can get them only by traveling.

And I said, “OK, let’s try to start from the beginning,” which means who—you know, you don’t born as a migrant. You become a migrant, you know. And in the beginning, you get a family. If they are a normal person, they can take a coffee in the morning. They have love stories. They breathe like you and me. They have red blood as you and me. So, just open the door to those normal people. They are just normal, you know. They can feel love. They are just a little bit different to you. But this difference doesn’t must be a problem. It should be welcome. It should be appreciated, you know. So it’s through this—you know, through this song, I tried to—you know, I’m trying to introduce my generation, to introduce this new Africa to the rest of the world in my way.

AMY GOODMAN: “Nterini,” explain what that word means.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: “Nterini” means “My Friend,” you know. Migrants can be a friend of anyone, you know. You should not lose your dignity because you’ve been trying to travel. And when people refuse you the visa, then you become a migrant. And this doesn’t fair, because it’s a normal guy. They are normal guys as everyone. They could be your friend. That’s why I say “My Friend.” You know, just open the door. You know, make things sweeter, more love, you know, if people can bring back a little bit more love to all those young guys trying to travel just to know about—to know more about this world, you know.

AMY GOODMAN: How has the migrant crisis affected your country, Mali?

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: It’s affected my country in the way that young people, they are in touch with social media, you know. When they see everything on Facebook, Twitter, all those social media, they want to leave. They want to feel how things look like. They want to touch things. They want to—a new experiences, you know, for their life or for, you know. And the effect is that many young people go, and they don’t know why they are going, where they will be going. So it’s just, “I go just to go.” And we got a lot of problems in north of my—in north of Africa today, you know, a kind of slavery. We don’t know. People are trying to sell other guys, because of—you know, it’s quite very sad, what’s happening today. Or maybe we can try to stay home. I don’t know. You know, from “Nterini” also, it’s like kind of a debate, you know, a conversation between me and my generation to say, “OK, your life was much better before you leave. Maybe it’s also good to go back home.” That’s why I would like to—I wanted to show how beauty is Africa, how things can be simply beautiful. We should appreciate it. But you can appreciate it only when you’ve been traveling, you know. For them, I don’t know. It’s difficult.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to your song right now, “Nterini.” This is Fatoumata Diawara.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: [performing “Nterini”]

AMY GOODMAN: “Nterini” by Fatoumata Diawara, our guest today, the great Malian songwriter and singer. But we have to go back in time, as you talk about the beauty of your country, Mali, Fatou. Can you start off by talking about where you were born, how you grew up and how you came to music? You have a very defiant history, even with your family.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: I was born in Ivory Coast, but from Malian family. Then I went back to Mali when I was—I had 10 years—I was 10 years old. Then I didn’t went back to Ivory Coast. So I grew up in Mali with Malian traditions and Malian family and, yeah, growing up with music, traditional music and strong music, strong traditions. And, yes, and I’ve been an actress, too, when I was a teenager.

AMY GOODMAN: Too fast, because in order to become an actress and then the musician that you are, you left home. Can you describe—I mean, you’re a young woman in Mali—what this meant, how you ended up acting?

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: I did actually two big travels in my life. The first one was when I was a child in Ivory Coast. You know, when my grandsister passed away, very, very fast, you know—

AMY GOODMAN: Very suddenly.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Very suddenly, and I was like traumatizing a little bit of this, you know. And I realized that I could sing to save myself in that time. And it was too complicated for my family. Then they have been sending me to Bamako, to my aunt’s. And life to my aunt was also—I was very different to there, so I couldn’t find my place in this world, even with a—

AMY GOODMAN: Bamako, the capital of Mali.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: The capital of Mali. You know, after Ivory Coast, I went to Bamako. Then I grew up with my aunt. She was an actress. And it was the age to be married, to get married to a cousin, you know, kind of arranged marriage. And I didn’t want this. Then I ran away. One day, I have left home to France, you know. This is the first version of—on the way.

AMY GOODMAN: And how did you end up in film?

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: I ended up in film because my aunt was an actress, and she took me with her when, you know, she had a project, a movie, which is called Taafe Fanga, which means Women Power, was my first movie. Then, when I was with her on the film shooting, the director wanted me on his movie, said—

AMY GOODMAN: You were taking care of her baby at the time.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: I was taking care of the baby. And the director said, “I want this face on my movie,” you know. And I just had only one line, one line or a couple of lines on the movie. And after, there were some directors there, and they were planning to have other movies. And then, after, I started to be an actress, like this—

AMY GOODMAN: And you—

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: —movie. But every year I had a movie and different stories, until Timbuktu.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, explain Timbuktu. Talk about that movie. It was—in the United States, it was nominated for an Oscar.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Yeah, Timbuktu is a very important movie for us, you know. It’s important in the way that the subject have been treated by a Malian guy, an African man, you know. He tried to share his visions about his—you know, about this problem in north of Mali—I can say all Mali today. And I was playing my own character, you know, because when Abderrahmane Sissako called me for the first time for his movie, he said, “I got something for you in the movie. You’re going to play your own character,” which means that what you’ve been doing in 2013 in Mali, when the putschists was in, when the country was totally in a war and completely down, when I tried to put all artists, all big artists, together to sing, you know, to fight to save music, you know, fight for—to let—because music was banned in all Mali, actually, for three or four months. And this was our first time to live this kind of situation, because Mali’s music is everything in our country. I can sing everywhere, but Mali, it’s really important music. Music is very important. Then Abderrahmane called me to say, “OK, you should play your own character on the movie.” And it’s a girl that’s—you know, when they are beating me, so I’m singing. I will keep singing even if the extremists try to stop me singing, so…

AMY GOODMAN: So you became more and more well known, but your parents wanted you home and married. You had to renounce your career on Malian television and say you would no longer be performing, as a young woman?

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Yes, I did this.

AMY GOODMAN: How old were you?

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: I was like 18 years old.

AMY GOODMAN: Your parents said you had to say, “Fini.”

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Yeah, and I said this on TV, yes. I do remember.

AMY GOODMAN: And then you got married?

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: No. Then, after a while, I said no. I’ve been—life changed in my life, because a French director came in Bamako and tried to—you know, we had a meeting, and the conversation with him changed totally my mind. He said, “Don’t sacrifice your life, because you are so talented. It’s so bad for women. It’s so bad for humanity.” He told me this. And it was a French guy, you know, telling me this. So this was like, nobody told me this before. And was saying, “OK, then.” Jean-Luc Courcoult, a director from street theater, from Nantes.

AMY GOODMAN: So, how did—if young women are listening to this, teenagers, how did you stand up to your parents and say, “I am going to defy you. I’m going to find my own way”?

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: I couldn’t say that. I’ve been running away, you know. It was difficult in that time. I wasn’t—I wasn’t a singer yet. I didn’t have my own arm, you know, like today. Today I can take my voice and my guitar and say, shout, you know, anytime, whenever I want and where I want. And before this, you know, I was like a little slave, you know, a little bit slave in my mind. I couldn’t tell them that I will be going. So I’ve been running away. But today, yes, today I can sit in front of them and speaking as a adult, and, you know, they respect what I’m doing.

AMY GOODMAN: So they say you were right now to do what you did?

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Yeah, today they say—because I’ve been—I did this movie, Mali Blues, which is, you know, my go-back, my comeback in Mali, with my family. And many are very proud of me, because they realize that even if I’ve been born in a traditional family with strong traditions and strong family, I’m totally different. My vision to the world is more large, is more open. And I don’t know how this—they don’t—in the beginning, it was difficult for them to understand this, to accept this. But at the end now—so, in the end, everybody accept me as I am. And I’m trying to be—to share this open mind to my generation. You know, it’s not only for me. It’s also for all young generation, young—this generation in Mali today, you know, how we can keep our tradition but in the same time be open to the rest of the world.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Fatoumata Diawara, the Malian singer and songwriter. Her new album is out right now. It’s called Fenfo, which means “Something to Say.” But your first album was, well, what you’re called, your name, Fatou.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Fatou.

AMY GOODMAN: 2011. Talk about releasing that album, to great acclaim.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: The album was called Fatou. It’s because I made everything by myself. I did all percussions, the guitar. It was my first guitar I bought.

AMY GOODMAN: You taught yourself guitar.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: It was the beginning of—you know, when I bought my first guitar, I did—I learned the guitar by making this album, you know. Everything was like I was playing like this, you know, in the studio. So, and the director, Nick Gold, from World Circuit, appreciated that. He said, you know, “This album must be called Fatou because you made everything by your hands and your fragility.” And, you know, I didn’t care of the perfections. I don’t like—you know, it doesn’t matter, the perfection in music, to me, which—what’s the most important thing to me, it’s my truth, you know. And Nick knew that, and he said, “It should be called Fatou.” That’s why.

AMY GOODMAN: So, tell us about the song we’re about to play—you performed it in our studio—”Sowa,” from your album Fatou.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Yeah, “Sowa,” it’s a small door of my life. You know, it’s like I got like many doors in my head. I just have to open one, and I can tell you a story. And “Sowa,” it’s the part of my—the adoptions, you know, when I left my mom, and I couldn’t see her for 11 or 12 years. And I had always these eyes on me when I was like—you know, I was 10 years old. I’m going to Bamako, and I was in the car. She was watching me, and the car was going very far. This was—it was the only souvenir that I had from her. And then I—

AMY GOODMAN: The only memory.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: The only memory, you know. And I said, “OK, you should make a song about these eyes.”

AMY GOODMAN: And “Sowa” means?

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: “Sowa” means—”Sowa” is the name that I created for all people who have been growing up without their generating parents, you know? I call them “Sowa.” It’s kind of open. You know, it’s like a hope in name, like a hope name, because it’s a kind of love that cannot be reply. I’m one of the Sowa, and I knew that I wasn’t alone. I’m not the only one. So we are so many on this planet without saying “Mom” in our life. We didn’t say “Mom.” We didn’t say “Dad.” You know, you don’t have a souvenir of your young—your baby life. You know how to be—you didn’t—you don’t have a souvenir to be a child in your life. You know, it’s a kind of situation. So I called them “Sowa,” all those people in this world.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to “Sowa,” performed by Fatoumata Diawara right here in Democracy Now!’s studios.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: [performing “Sowa”]

AMY GOODMAN: Fatoumata Diawara, singing “Sowa,” from her first album, where she played all of the music, learning the music as she played it, learning to play the guitar, as Fatou said, not caring about perfection, but the spirit, the soul of the music. “Sowa,” from your first album, Fatou. And you’re singing in Bambara.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Always.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the language.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Always. I love this language, because when I left my home, it was the only thing that I had as—I don’t know how to say—as a gift, after God and the spiritual things in the world. The language was my ancestral, was my soul, was my ruler, was myself, was my African—the only thing that I had in this time. So, singing in Bambara, it was the best way, to me, to introduce myself to the rest of the world, saying, “OK, I come from—I’m Fatoumata Diawara. I come from Mali. And we speak this language. And this is me. My story is this. I’ve been adopted, and now I’m playing music to you. Do you like it?” That’s it. And Bambara was the best way for me to introduce myself, because it’s the only—you know, I’ve been growing up speaking this language, and I know how to express myself in it in the best way, you know? Even if when I write the songs, I know how to, abroad, you know, touch people. It’s like an arm. It’s everything, Bambara, to me.

AMY GOODMAN: So I wanted to turn to another song from Fatou. The song is “Mousso,” which means “Women.”

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And you took New York by storm in January, when President Trump was first elected. It was a group of many musicians, and I wish I had been there, but word has it—

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: At Carnegie Hall, right.

AMY GOODMAN: Right, at Carnegie Hall, that you just blew people away with your two songs, “Mousso” and also “Unite.”

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: And “Unite.”

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about “Mousso” first, and then we’ll play it.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: “Mousso,” it’s very easy. “Mousso,” it’s about myself, because I’m a woman. “Mousso,” it’s about all women today in this world. “Mousso,” it’s about women coming in the future also. We should sing “Mousso.” We must sing women, because she’s doing a lot. She’s doing a lot today, especially in war countries, you know, especially in countries where their development is not—you know, there is not big development. You know, “Mousso” is like representing all female in this world, you know. So, in the song, I say, “You should respect her. You should love her. You should not beat her. She must be your confidant. She must be strong. She could be a president. You know, she could be a janitor or doctor.”

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to “Mousso.”

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: [performing “Mousso”]

AMY GOODMAN: That’s “Mousso.” Fatoumata Diawara sang that song, among other places, at Carnegie Hall with David Crosby and many other musicians. It was in January of 2018.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Yeah, Snarky Puppy, Laura Mvula.

AMY GOODMAN: You also sang “Unite.” So, again, this was a concert that was basically people singing—

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Protest songs, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —protesting President Trump. We’re talking about a president who called Africa a “s—hole country”—I don’t want to say the word—as if Africa is a country, not to mention Haiti and El Salvador. Your thoughts about this?

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Yeah, it was—this surprised many African people. All of us were very surprised of that, because Africa is just right there. It’s in the corner. It’s not that far. So, we can’t imagine that today people can think that it’s like a country or it’s like a—it doesn’t exist sometimes for some people. And this was very strange to me and, I know, strange for many people in this world. But we should maybe keep fighting to introduce Africa in the best way. Maybe many people are ignorant about it. It’s to us, our generation, maybe to make people well know about this continent, you know.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about “Unite.”

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: “Unite,” it’s to unify this continent, to unify African child, to unify African countries, because if a travel is not possible, it’s maybe good to stay home and to build this Africa. But sometimes we’re all born as a nomad. It doesn’t matter which color you are. Humans naturally are nomad. We got our two feet just to move. Children need to move. You need to move. You don’t need to—it’s not because of money, or it’s not because of famine only. It’s not the only reason to move, because I know a lot of European people living in Senegal, living in Ivory Coast, living in Mali. They won’t—they don’t want to go back home. It’s not because they are poor. It’s because they feel good, better, far from their family sometimes, you know? It’s just you feel like growing up faster, learning faster. It’s different experiences. And African young generation need this experience. So, if it’s not possible in the direction of Europe, maybe let’s try to open the door inside of Africa. So, when I say “united,” it’s a unified Africa. I want to unite.

I need peace in my country, too. North and south in Mali, our differences must be something beautiful. It should not be seen like a defect, you know. We should appreciate our differences, because without peace, you can’t tell about development, you can say nothing about development. And as women, I want to represent. You know, I want to be the voice of less voices, I mean, all those children living in this Africa, living in this world, who need to let people know about their anxiety. They’re asking for peace. Children need peace. They all need peace today, peace and love, no material things. And so, you know, when I unify, it’s a unity for many reason, for many, many reason, because without peace, you can’t go at school and say, “So, I’m going to school”—for what future? What? You’re going to do what in the future? Children are very—they’re like oppressed today. And we need peace, united peace, united peace. We must singing for.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about your new album, Fenfo. In English, it translates as “Something to Say.”

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: “To Say.”

AMY GOODMAN: And also I want to—you sang your—the title song, “Fenfo,” here.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: “Something to Say.” What are you saying?

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: “Something to Say.” In this song, it’s a baby, a baby telling, asking to his mom, “Why, Mom, you didn’t tell me that the world was so crazy, the world was almost at the end, before I come? If I knew, I wouldn’t come out.”

AMY GOODMAN: Does this have something to do with you having your own baby now?

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: You know, when I watch him, I cry sometimes.

AMY GOODMAN: He’s two-and-a-half?

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: He’s two-and-a-half. I cry sometimes. And when I’m playing on stage, I see children dancing, I cry. I spend time crying for children. I don’t know why. Because I’m a woman, so I’m crying for—it’s not because they’re happy now, dancing in front of me. You know, when children are very happy, I cry for them, because they don’t know about the future. Even me, I don’t know about the future. Nobody know about this future today. So, when you see them so happy, so—not ignorant, but so naive—comment dire “naïve”?—you just—it’s sad, because the future is really weird. “Fenfo,” it’s about all those children, all children in this world today.

AMY GOODMAN: In “Fenfo,” you sing, “Friends are killing each other every day, but they did not tell me anything.”

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: “Didn’t tell me anything, Mama.”

AMY GOODMAN: “Neighbors wish each other harm every, but they did not tell me anything.”

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: “They didn’t tell me, Mama.”

AMY GOODMAN: “Brothers are killing each other every day.”

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: “And they didn’t tell me, Mom.”

AMY GOODMAN: “Siblings tear each other every day in this world.”

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: “Every day, Mama. They didn’t tell me. Why you didn’t tell me?”

AMY GOODMAN: “Father, you did not tell me anything.”

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Yeah, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: “Friends act hatefully towards one another.” Let’s go to “Fenfo” right now. You’ll think you speak the language. It’s Bambara.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: [performing “Fenfo”]

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Fatoumata Diawara, Malian singer, here in our studios, performing around the world. When I asked her where she’s going next, she said, “It’s hard to know.” So, the whole issue of peace that you talk about, that you sing about, talking about what’s happening in Africa today, the message in your song “Mali-ko.” You went back to Mali in 2013?

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Yes, because it was—we were going to the genocide in 2012. It was really urgent to me to go back home and to be in touch with my generation, to communicate with other artists, taking the place of ambassador. You know, we were ambassadors that day, because we didn’t have a president, we didn’t have a ruler. So the country was like, “Without ruler, we don’t know who is whom.” And the people were starting to say, “No, we are in trouble because of our brothers from the north.” They were on the street trying to beat them. So, the tension was really weird in my country.

I said, “No, don’t go to this,” because everybody know how to start a war, but nobody know how to stop it. When I had this line in my mind, I said, “Go back home and sing this to your country. Sing just this line.” Everybody know how to start. It’s very easy, shouting every day, “No, no, no!” This is easy. Everybody can do it. Children can do that. Everybody can decide to start war. But stopping it, I don’t know nobody. It’s difficult to stop a war. So, then, the song was about this. I went back home, and we have been making—you know, we sang—

AMY GOODMAN: You gathered like 40 Malian musicians?

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Malian musicians, everybody—Toumani, Toumani Diabaté, Oumou Sangaré, Vieux Farka Touré, Habib Koité, Bassekou Kouyaté—all, everybody. They came to me in three dates. We had this song. I wrote this song with my small guitar. And the song was growing up. Every artist come, the song change. And it becomes a very, very big song. Even today, we’re still playing this song to the radio, on TV, because it’s still keeping people in peace until today, since today, you know, because it’s important. We have been saying everything inside to change people’s mind. When we feel that we got a small tension in the country, the radio and TV start to put, you know, this song on everywhere. And the tension go down. Until today—

AMY GOODMAN: This is sort of the opposite of what happened in Rwanda, when the radio called Rwandans cockroaches, and it gave license to kill.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Exactly.

AMY GOODMAN: They’re playing “Mali-ko.” And it’s—

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Voilà, in Mali, yeah. Until today, you know, this song’s still keeping people in a peace, because we need that, because we don’t understand totally what’s going on in the north. It’s still a very complicated situation, so—and we don’t want to start a war. We don’t want to start fighting between north and south, because—for what?

AMY GOODMAN: So let’s talk about the words. “The time has come for us to speak up about the crisis in Mali. We, the artists, must now speak from the heart about what’s happening in our Mali. Men and women of Mali, stand together! Our Mali never wanted a war. What’s going on in Mali? Do we really want to kill each other? Do we really want to betray one another? Allow ourselves to be divided? Remember, we are all children of the same mother country. When we stand together, all of Africa is stronger.” This is “Mali-ko,” but sung in the inimitable words and language of Fatoumata Diawara and her friends.

VOICES UNITED FOR MALI: [performing “Mali-ko”]

AMY GOODMAN: Fatoumata Diawara singing back in 2013 in Mali, singing the song “Mali-ko” with scores of other Malian musicians to try to bring peace to their country. Talk about, Fatou, the musicians who have most influenced you.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: I can say, from Africa, I’ve been growing up with Malian music 100 percent. I will start by all those great female artists like Nahawa Doumbia, Kagbe Sindibé, Coumba Sidibé. I mean, people don’t know much about them, you know, but it’s a kind of—it’s a kind of blues song, a very roots. And I’m still listening to them, you know, to keep in touch with my roots, you know. And then, after, I came—I had a chance, you know, because I was living in Paris, to listen to Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Erykah Badu—you know, all pop and jazz, new soul music and everything.

AMY GOODMAN: So you heard Ella Fitzgerald. The music of Ella Fitzgerald or Ella Fitzgerald singing herself?

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: No, only music, their music. Only the music. I was young.

AMY GOODMAN: Billie Holiday, of course.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: The music. And this came—I started to listen to other music only when I was 20 years old. Can you believe in it? It was only Malian music, 100 percent. Yeah, in Mali, we used to consume music.

AMY GOODMAN: What about Oumou Sangaré?

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Yes, Oumou Sangaré also. She’s part of those great women, you know.

AMY GOODMAN: And Miriam Makeba?

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Miriam Makeba, naturally. Angélique Kidjo. I don’t know why—

AMY GOODMAN: Who’s been here.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: I love we female voices. And—

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to play for you a musician who came into the studio from Timbuktu.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Khaira Arby!

AMY GOODMAN: Yes. Let’s go to—

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: She’s the only one.

AMY GOODMAN: —Khaira Arby singing here at Democracy Now!

KHAIRA ARBY: [performing “Goumou”]

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: She’s my [inaudible]. I love her.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Khaira Arby from Timbuktu.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: She’s from Timbuktu.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, she’s not singing in Bambara.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: No, she’s singing in Songhai.

AMY GOODMAN: And why is she so important to you?

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Same language of Ali Farka Touré. They’re from the same city, you know.

AMY GOODMAN: Called the “Nightingale of the North.”

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Timbuktu. Yeah—oh, my god, it’s in the middle, totally the middle, in the middle of Mali. She’s strong. She’s been fighting to be a woman and a singer, and she’s still fighting, you know. She got to get divorced and everything, because she want to keep the singing, because men and women give up on the way. It’s very difficult to be a female singer today, and all around. And also this voice. I grew up with this voice.

AMY GOODMAN: So, as Fenfo is released, as your second album is released, what is your message to the world?

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Peace and love. Peace and give a chance to all children. All I’m doing today is for the future generation. It’s not even for myself, because I have been living a little bit. I can say I know a little bit about this world. But what about children today? You know, a child, from one month, one day. Even now, some of are born in today. So I’m fighting for them, you know. That’s why working hard is just for this, to give a chance to all those children. So, we are asking for peace in the world.

AMY GOODMAN: How important is an American audience to you?

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: It’s important to me in the way that I think today we’re in the same situation. The planet is in the same situation. It’s going crazy in everywhere. So when I sing in Mali for peace, I feel the same for America. I can’t see the differences in it anymore. Today, it’s like the world is one for me, as a woman, as a human. And I would like to fight for peace and love for all children, in everywhere, everywhere today.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Fatou, in 2014, you were named a knight, or a chevalier, in France’s National Order of Arts and Letters. You dedicated your award to the youth of Africa.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: How important was this award to you? You lived in Paris.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Yes. It’s important because they’re trying to be someone. We are fighting to change the images of Africa today. You can see all music coming from Africa. Even many artists from America go. Black Americans go to Africa today to collaborate with our new sound, new pop music and other things, clothing. And women are starting to dress as African, to make contemporary African dresses. And the hair, the wig—you know, stopping putting wig on our head, natural hair. So there is something, a very positive movement.

AMY GOODMAN: You wear your hair in dreads with cowry shells.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Yeah, this is my hair. It’s my natural hair. But I always like—I put, you know, some red color, because it’s my energy. I love the red. I need to see it every day, to keep to fighting—to keep fighting. And, you know, this is important, to have our own hair, you know. And this is for my ancestral, also to carry them with me. It’s like a message. We could stay as African and fight for the best, open our mind to the rest of the world, but staying keeping the tradition, the roots, and fight for the new Africa.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Fatoumata Diawara, thank you for gracing our studio.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Thank you, too. Thank you for having me here.

AMY GOODMAN: For sanctifying it with your music.

FATOUMATA DIAWARA: Thank you so much.

AMY GOODMAN: Fatoumata Diawara, Malian singer-songwriter. Her new album is called Fenfo, Something to Say. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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