Boloko (Circumcision) – Fatoumata Diawara

A song that boldly condemns the awful practice of female genital mutilation in Mali

Born in Cote D’Ivoire to Malian parents, at 32 years old, Fatoumata Diawara is a force of nature. She escaped a restrictive environment in her family and at 20 years of age she moved to Paris to pursue a career in music and theatre. Although she was in Mali for a short while, she claims to have lived a Malian life, their family spoke the Malian lingua franca, Bambara, and Wandalou dialects. Her family kept the Malian traditions of traditional music and dancing very much alive, keeping Diawara close to her roots. Being very attached to Mali, Diawara sings in her native language Bambara about current issues in the country: war, female genital mutilation, poverty and women’s rights.

For many girls in Mali she is an inspiration, a woman who has had the courage to stand up to her conservative parents but still kept her roots well established, and an enormous love for Mali. She often reflects on what her life would be if she had not moved, and once reflecting on this, she said she would probably have been married to her cousin at 15 and would be a mother of 9 had she stayed.

The music, which Diawara often writes, is a mix of Wandalou traditional sounds from Southern Mali and international influence, accompanied by her sweet yet firm voice. They almost always evoke a sense of openness and movement. And maybe they are meant to reflect the singer’s life, throughout which she moved from one place to another  First, she was sent to live with her aunt at the age of nine in Bamako, where she became a child actor and starred in a film about a young girl who defies tradition. Later, against her parent’s wishes, she fled Bamako in the middle of the night to join the theatre company Royale de Luxe in Paris. She continues to travel for her work in the musical business

Because her lyrics in Bambara are incomprehensible for most of our readers, it is all the more important to be able to understand the deeper meaning of her music , and keep in mind that these lyrics, as well as Diawara’s story,  have a huge impact on young girls and women in Mali. Boloko, meaning circumcision, is the second to last song of Diawara’s debut album Fatou, released in 2011. With an apparent delicacy- the music is soft and steady- the song discusses and condemns one of the most horrible traditions still practiced in Mali: female genital mutilation (FGM). The World  Health Organization defines FGM as comprising all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. The practice is usually done by a traditional circumciser, and it can result in infections, cysts or complications at child birth. This is a cultural practice that is deeply embedded in erroneous beliefs and traditions. In Mali, it is estimated that 91% of women between the age of 15 and 49 have undergone FGM. This is a painful procedure which disables future sexual pleasures as well as having a strong physiological effect on the women who are circumcised.

“Dont cut the flower that makes me a woman”

FGM is a practice that can be stopped through policies just as much as with cultural change of mindset and awareness raising, and it is influential people like Diawara that can speed this process up. She represents for many girls in Mali an example that it is possible to defy tradition and continue your life remaining faithful to your culture and roots, can really have an impact through her lyrics. Her aim is to change things through music, in an interview with the Independent she said:

“In Mali, my generation looks at me, at every action I do. I’m like a little example for them, for women. When I’m in Bamako, many girls come to me and say they’re very happy for everything I’m doing. I can tell them what I want through my music.”

When translated, the simple lyrics of Boloko carry a strong message and a fearless and bold condemnation towards those that keep the practice going, juxtaposing with the delicate melody that accompanies them. Though she condemns certain traditions, she is a proud Malian and African, letting this transpire in everything from her clothes and her confident attitude. A self-taught guitarist and songwriter, she has found a unique voice in her music that is a tool for strength and hope for many.

They cut the flower that made me a woman

Dont cut the flower that makes me a woman

If you circumcise girls you will make their intimate moments difficult

They will always have health problems

If you circumcise girls you will make their intimate moments difficult

They will always have health problems

“I beg you mother, don’t let them circumcise me, it hurts so much”

“I beg you father, don’t let them circumcise me, it hurts so much”

They cut it…..Mother, stop female circumcision

Mother it hurts so much (x4)

If you circumcise girls you will make their intimate moments difficult

They will always have problems with childbirth, they will always have health problems

Don’t Circumcise girls

African women live through too much hell and suffering

We should look again at our ancestral beliefs and assess them

Keep whats good for us, and reject all that harms us us

African women live through too much hell and abuse (x2)

They cut it…Stop female circumcision!

Mother, it hurts so much

It hurts so much

Sounds from the Bucket
Virginia Vigliar

Virginia is a freelance journalist and editor based in Barcelona, consults for Oxfam in Spain and the Netherlands, and she is the Chief Editor of WIB. She is a passionate advocate of human rights and freedom of speech. And a meme enthusiast. She has worked in the development sector in Malawi and Kenya and Somalia before returning to Europe, where she gained experience in the United Kingdom, Norway, and Spain. To see her work, look at her website here:
4 Comments on this post.
  • Avatar
    Rachel nGuyen
    19 May 2016 at 2:06 pm
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    I am disappointed with the tone of this article. Using terms like ‘escaped’ and ‘fled’ imply that Diawara was imprisoned by her culture, family, and community. I know many Malians who have left Bamako for different reasons, mostly having to do with economic or educational opportunities. None of them would say they ‘escaped’. Did Diawara actually characterize her leaving an ‘escape’? Or was that simply the overly dramatic and xenophobic tone of the writer?

  • Virginia Vigliar
    Virginia vigliar
    19 May 2016 at 3:13 pm
    Leave a Reply

    Dear Rachel, Thank you for your comment. Escape might not be the perfect word in this case, although she did break free of conservative familiar structures that were too tight for her, and that takes courage in any culture. I did not generalise about the Malian people, or any other, each person leaves the country for different reasons, and in this case, it had a lot to do with the culture, that to this individual person felt restrictive. I would be very careful in using the word xenophobic, it is strong and very personal, I agree that words may be misunderstood, and I will look at what I wrote again. I would agree that it can be interpreted and “overly dramatic”, but not xenophobic. I will ignore that word, and take your other constructive criticism into consideration. Thank you

  • Avatar
    Serena Natile
    26 May 2016 at 8:05 am
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    Thanks Rachel for your comment and thanks Virginia for your article. I would like to spend few words on this topic, according to my experience and my research on Africa feminisms. Female excision or FGM is often judged through Western imperialist lens. The origin of this debate can be linked back to colonialism and to the UN Decade (1975-1985) and the World Conferences on Women, where for Western feminists ending FGM was the first priority in Africa. Differently, African delegates recognised the necessity to address the negative aspects of this practice, but also highlighted how the availability of sufficient food and clean water had a greater and more urgent importance for them. Female excision is part of a female initiation ceremony (there is a similar male initiation) which has a social and generational meaning. These practices were considered barbaric according to the civilising, moralising and controlling intentions of colonisers, without considering the views of African people on what to do. Ironic is the fact that some interventions on FGM have focused on the surgically restoring the clitorises instead of more serious health issues. Even more ironic is the fact that skin whitening/bleaching creams introduced in Africa by WESTERN markets have never received so much attention by Western feminists and organisations, but they are equally and even more dangerous for women! African scholars like Sylvia Tamale, Oyeronke Oyewumi or also the book The Politics of the Womb by Lynn Thomas can help to understand female excision and hopefully decolonise some views on this. I will write something more elaborated on this for WiB as soon as I have some time.

  • Avatar
    Davide rossi
    10 April 2019 at 12:08 am
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    Dear Serena, I see you are now a Lecturer in Socio-Legal Studies and I have to say I’m very surprised by the ingenuity of your words. These are writings from three years ago, I really hope you now see these words under a different light.
    Your remark that “sufficient food and clean water had a greater and more urgent importance for them” is totally uncalled-for.
    Let’s put aside our (and their!) interest in democracy, equality, arts and everything that is not as urgent as clean water. A very good idea indeed. Tying people to their basic needs has always been a way to control them, do I really need to say that to somebody with your background? And controlling inhabitants has always been a high priority task in every “good imperialist” manual.
    And what about “Female excision is part of a female initiation ceremony (there is a similar male initiation) which has a social and generational meaning”, where you are trying compare FGM and male initiation ceremonies?
    Let me put this straight: FGM is meant to negate sexual pleasure to the women and this is done exclusively in order to warrant marital fidelity, which is also projects on women a sexually-confined view of (in)fidelity that is typical of men. And, BTW, no male initiation ceremony aims at negating sexual pleasure to men (if you ever wondered).
    I really believe that you are grossly mistaking the “Western imperialist lens” with the “Universal human right lens” and I have to admit that I felt the urge to reply with my broken English to a three years old comment because there is something in it that I find deeply disturbing, even more considering that is written by a woman.

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