Fatoumata Diawara Fatoumata Diawara (a.k.a. Fatou) was born of Malian parents in the Ivory Coast in 1982. As a child she became a member of her father’s dance troupe and was a popular performer of the wildly flailing didadi dance from Wassoulou, her ancestral home in western Mali. She was an energetic and headstrong girl and at the age of 12 her refusal to go to school prompted her parents to send her to live and be disciplined by an aunt in Bamako. She was not to see her parents again for more than a decade. Her aunt was an actress, and a few years after arriving, Diawara found herself on a film set looking after her aunt’s infant child. The film’s director was captivated by Diawara’s adolescent beauty and she was given a one-line part in the final scene of the film Taafe Fangan (The Power of Women). This led to a lead role in a film by the celebrated director Cheick Omar Sissoko: 1999’s La Genèse (Genesis). At the age of 18 Diawara travelled to Paris to perform the classical Greek role of Antigone on stage. After touring with the production she returned to Mali where she was given the lead in Dani Kouyaté’s popular 2001 film Sia, The Dream of the Python. The film tells the story of a West African legend called Sia, a young girl who defies tradition. To many in Mali, Guinea, Senegal, and Burkina Faso, Diawara is Sia thanks to the film’s enormous success throughout the region. Offers for further acting roles poured in but Diawara’s family wanted her to settle down and marry and forced her to announce, live on Malian television, that she was abandoning her career as an actress. In 2002 Jean-Louis Courcoult, the director of the renowned French theatre company, Royale de Luxe, travelled to Bamako to offer Diawara a part in his new production. An unmarried woman is considered a minor in Malian society so her family’s permission was required. They refused. After much soul-searching Diawara took the daring decision to run away and at the Bamako airport she managed to board a plane for Paris, narrowly escaping the pursuit of the police who had been alerted to the girl’s “kidnapping.” With Royal de Luxe, Diawara performed a variety of roles around the world including tours in Vietnam and Mexico and throughout Europe. During rehearsals and quiet moments she took to singing backstage for her own amusement. She was overheard by the director and was soon singing solo during the company’s performances. Encouraged by the reception from audiences she began to sing in Parisian clubs and cafes during breaks from touring. Here she met Cheikh Tidiane Seck the celebrated Malian musician and producer who invited her to travel with him back to Mali to work on two projects as chorus vocalist; Seya, the Grammy–nominated album by Malian singer Oumou Sangaré, and Red Earth, the Grammy–winning Malian project by American jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater. When the albums were released Diawara toured worldwide as singer and dancer with both artists.