Since Vampire Weekend's Afrobeat-fuelled assault on the UK's mainstream charts in mid-2010, responsibility for keeping African or African-influenced original material in front of open-minded music fans has been left to excellent artists with lower profiles like Spain's El Guincho, Portugal's Buraka Som Sistema, Cameroon's Muntu Valdo and Somali-Canadian rapper K'Naan, as well as more traditional stars such as Amadou and Mariam, Toumani Diabate and Salif Keita.

Recent collaborative releases like the DJ Shadow single 'I'm Excited' which features British-Nigerian MC Afrikan Boy, Damon Albarn's Oxfam fundraiser Kinshasa One Two and a triumphant return from the superb Saharan Touareg blues band Tinariwen are helping to reignite the love affair between Western music and the many sounds of the African diaspora, yet it is from beyond these familiar names that an relatively unknown but serious contender for the new voice and face of African music comes.

Appearing alone on stage, opening for the electrifying Congolese supergroup Staff Benda Bilili earlier this year, Fatoumata Diawara cut a graceful figure; modest yet quietly confident. Brushing off a few unexpected sound problems with a smile and gentle banter, the singer-songwriter went on to perform a short but incredible set, captivating the audience with just a handful of numbers.

An easy comparison might be Lauryn Hill; effortless transitions from low husky melancholy to uplifting joyous praise in the space of a breath backed by sparse instrumentation evoke the US rapper turned singer's acoustic session era, but that is an analogy that goes nowhere near close enough to illustrate Diawara's potential.

On her debut album, Fatou, the Malian 29-year-old is accompanied mostly by simple acoustic guitar picking and hand percussion, with the occasional addition of subtle keyboard or bass. This basic formula works impeccably with her honeyed vocals throughout, and at no point do musical arrangements (all written by Diawara) overshadow or overtake her voice which is naïve, childlike, worldly and knowing in equal parts.

The poignant and touching melodies of opening tracks 'Kanou' and 'Sowa' segue into upbeat rhythms of 'Bakonoba' and 'Mousso' then back again, contributing to a balanced, accessible and open-hearted album. The Malian style of music Diawara plays, particularly on 'Alama' and 'Boloko', is recognised by some musicologists as an influence on early American blues – a link that may allow Western audiences to subconsciously connect further with this natural and honest album.

A difficult childhood and adolescence spent as as a dancer and actress seems to have grounded Diawara well in her adopted new direction as singer-songwriter, and though sadly her story is not untypical for an African-born artist, she is using her experiences to stake a claim on the world music stage and certainly has ambitions beyond it.

Allure and stage presence? Diawara has it. Sheer musical and vocal talent? She has that too, in copious amounts. In this recording, a beautiful and fresh new talent appears. International mainstream recognition surely awaits.