b. Fatoumata Toure, 30 May, Bamako, Mali. Descended from nobility and therefore seen as someone for whom a singing career was unacceptable (in Malian culture, only those from the ‘Griot’ caste are encouraged to become professional singers), Toure nevertheless began singing publicly at a young age, and by the time she reached her mid-teens, she was regularly participating in, and winning, competitive music festivals in her home-town. However, in spite of a growing reputation as a singer, dancer and songwriter, she let music take a back seat so that she could concentrate on her studies, and obtained a degree in accountancy and management. Having abandoned singing, she opened a boutique, and only returned to music in 1995 to sing with an orchestra led by Toumani Diabate at the Market for African Performing Arts in Cote d’Ivoires. Following this warmly received comeback, she began to perform regularly in her home-town again and in 1996 recorded her debut album for the local market, which brought her to the attention of Salif Keita, who, impressed by her powerful voice and socially aware lyrics, invited her to record at his Wenda Production studio. N’tin Naari was recorded there in November 1996 and was released internationally a year later. The album introduced the world to Toure’s raw vocals and her lyrics describing the social conditions of women in Mali, all set against a musical backing of traditional Malian instruments, such as the xylophone-like balafon and the ngoni (a small stringed instrument), alongside electric guitar and keyboards.