'Hailed as one of the most vital standard-bearers of modern African music, Fatoumata Diawara...has also worked courageously as a social activist, campaigning against the trafficking and sale of black migrants in Libyan slave markets and recording the song “Djonya” (it means ‘slavery’ in Bambará) in which she restates the universal, but often sadly disregarded, truth that we all belong to the same human race regardless of colour, ethnicity or religion."
Fatoumata Diawara is not about protest alone. She is also about joy, and the special kind of joy music can bring people. Speaking of her musical origins in Mali she says: Music is the most important thing in Mali. In many ways it is all we have. It gives people hope. We have a strong culture and music is the story of my country. We need people to continue to walk on and music gives them hope. Music is giving and my music isn't just political, I wish for it to raise a joyful spirit for people. For children and women.
Her music is an invitation to all of us, everywhere, to respect one another and have some fun in the process. It is a protest against a false universalism that covers the globe with western, European values; that is obsessed with whiteness (pale) values, sometimes under the rubric of what is misnamed progress; and that approaches African peoples as a resource for colonization under rubric of commerce or religion.
What is truly crazy is the fear of joy, of differences, of respect, and (in the case of men in power) of women. What is crazy is the assumption that people can or should be colonized or enslaved. What is crazy is that some might even imagine the living Ancestor in whose heart the universe unfolds as white and male.
One purpose of Fatoumata's music, in addition to is sheer vibrancy, is to sing the colonizers past craziness, to sing the colonized into self-respect, and to sing all into love. Those of us in the process community often say that we are beckoned past the craziness by the true living Ancestor: the One who is partly composed of appreciative relations to the diversity of people's and nations and cultures, the One whose very essence is love. We speak of this Ancestor, who comes from the future as well as the past, as God.
We believe that the Ancestor calls us to build communities that are creative, compassionate, participatory, diverse, inclusive, humane to animals, and good for the earth, with no one left behind. We speak of them as the building blocks of what we call Ecological Civilizations. Let the music of Fatoumata and that of many other African musicians remind everyone everywhere, Africa much included, of the powerful place that African peoples have as pioneers past the craziness into a kind of world we all, most deeply, desire. A kind that is joyful.
-- Jay McDaniel (Feb. 24, 2020)
Lyrics to Kokoro
Let’s not turn our back on our traditions Let’s embrace them, be proud of them Let’s not abandon our traditions We need to welcome them, like a miracle Let’s not turn our back on them They want to destroy our traditional values Because we are Africans We have lost all our cultural references Because they see us as slaves Our ancestors have abandoned us They want to kill our traditions Because we are Africans Our human warmth is disappearing I bow before our ancestral traditions, mother I pray to the spirits of our ancestors I bow before our ancestral traditions Why are we not proud of who we are? We try to look like Europeans, by bleaching our skin We try to look like the Chinese and sell off our resources to them We think that being Muslim means to cover ourselves from top to toe We want to look like Indians by applying their bindi to our forehead Who will carry on Sunjata’s heritage? I, Diawara Fanta proudly stand up and vow to carry on the ancestral heritage Who will build Africa for us? Who will live the African life in our stead? We have lost all our cultural references to Western culture If we do not respect ourselves, no one will ever respect us Why are we not proud of who we are?