Release Date: Apr 10, 2012
Record label: Nonesuch
Genre(s): International, West African, African Traditions, Malian Music
Africa's great husband-wife duo bring their trance vocals and shredding guitar grooves to Brooklyn, where they rock out with Santigold, members of TV on the Radio and others. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Nick Zinner adds guitar squall, and U.K. prog-soul diva Ebony Bones makes the line "But she's got too much melanin" into a giddy party chant. The result is cultural exchange with ears pricked high.
American artists have borrowed from West African music for decades, so it only makes sense that Mali’s most famous married duo would cash in a few long-standing favors. Folila, Amadou & Mariam’s seventh album, features drop-ins from Santigold, Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner, and neo-soul star Theophilus London. Though they sing in different languages, the tongue of teamwork makes for universal understanding — especially on the spry, haunting ”Wily Kataso.” A- Best Tracks:Shuffling Oh AmadouFiery Dougou Badia .
On 2012's Folila (which translates as "music" in Bambara), Mali's famed Amadou & Mariam, the husband-and-wife duo, effortlessly prove that "purist" alarm calls about melding popular and traditional musics across geographies because they dilute authenticity are not only inherently false, but their motivations are suspect. Amadou & Mariam originally cut twin albums -- same songs, tunings, and tempos -- one in New York with Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner, Santigold, Theophilus London, members of TV on the Radio and Antibalas, the Scissor Sisters' Jake Shears, and Bertrand Cantat. The other was a Malian offering, cut in Bamako with master musicians, including Bassekou Kouyaté on ngoni, Zoumana Tereta on sokou, and Toumani Diabaté on kora, to name a few.
For world music fans, a new album from Mali’s Amadou & Mariam is always something to get excited about. For the last decade or so, the blind husband and wife duo have been releasing music that embraces the sounds of their desert homeland— made familiar by Tinariwen and Ali Farka Touré—while at the same time incorporating aspects of many other genres including soul, techno, dub and hard rock. Their newest LP, Folila, is Amadou & Mariam’s most accessible album to date and features guests such as members of TV On The Radio, Theophilus London and Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner.
Amadou & Mariam are at this point firmly established international stars. They don't need people to explain their back story for half a review anymore, and they've become truly intertwined with a huge network of African and Western artists whom they've toured and recorded with, a list that ranges all over the place from Manu Chao to David Gilmour, K'naan, Damon Albarn, Bassekou Kouyaté and Santigold. With that fame comes a potential snag, though: it's much, much harder for them to surprise us now that they've defined themselves around a seamless synthesis of the music of their homeland and the music of the rest of the world.
Amadou & Mariam have traveled a long road since their mid-1990s African cassette-only days, or even since their first internationally-released albums. Tje Ni Mousso and Wati wowed listeners with their heady, blues-meets-classic-rock-inflected style of contemporary West African pop (in case that characterization sounds bewildering rather than enlightening, just listen to Wati’s opening track, “Walide”, to see what I’m getting at). Beginning with 2005’s breakout album Dimanche a Bamako, produced by Manu Chao, Amadou & Mariam have grown into bona fide global superstars, headlining rock festivals in the UK and drawing a worldwide audience.
How do you solve a problem like Amadou & Mariam? Following on from 2009’s well received Welcome To Mali, everybody’s favourite blind Malian duo have returned, proudly flaunting a contact book bulging like Elton John’s favourite florist’s property portfolio. Folila features collaborations with Santigold, TV On The Radio, Theophilus London and Scissor Sisters frontman Jake Shears. There are two ways to get this smattering of talent on your album.
Packed to the gills with guest stars and collaborators, Amadou & Mariam’s Folila should rightly be viewed with the kind of suspicion reserved for albums designed to pluck niche artists out of obscurity and position them on a larger stage. And while the album does act as an introduction to the group for beginners and a primer on the complicated rhythms of African pop, it does so mostly by engraining familiar artists and concepts within their style, a process which foments an expansion of their sound rather than watering it down. Folila, which takes its title from the Bambara word for music, is the reported result of the synthesis of two separate recording sessions—one in New York that skewed toward the modern and another in Bamako that was steeped in traditional methods.
Amadou and Mariam originally planned ‘Folila’ as two albums: a crossover effort with their friends in New York, and a rootsier one recorded at home in Bamako, with African guests. By combining the two, ‘the blind couple of Mali’ give a much better idea of their extraordinary reach. Santigold is a natural match for the rapid patter of ‘Dougou Badia’, while TV On The Radio sound uncharacteristically laid-back in the Latin rhythms of ‘Wily Kataso’.
The husband-and-wife team have blazed a charmed trail out of Mali to conquer the world, but Folila, packed with western friends, mixes the inspired and mundane. A blazing opener, "Dougou Badia", has Amadou's sinewy guitar trading licks with Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and New York's TV on the Radio bring slinky atmospherics to "Wily Kataso". Other contributions – Scissor Sister Jake Shears's disco touch, Amp Fiddler's retro soul – are marginal.
While it is difficult to review an album that is primarily recorded in a language you don’t understand, it can certainly be a testament to the power of music as a communicative medium. So much of music philosophy centres on the concept of whether sound, in and of itself, can communicate emotion. If there was ever an argument that it does, Amadou & Mariam may well be flying the flag in the modern popular music context.
An odd mix of stripped-back sounds and guest-heavy cuts muddles this sixth LP. David Katz 2012 Darlings of the world music scene, Amadou & Mariam are greatly loved for their willingness to experiment, and for the musical craftwork that has hallmarked their take on West African blues. The tale of how this celebrated husband-and-wife duo met at a school for blind youth in their native Mali is now common knowledge, their championship concretely emerging since their 2004 collaboration with Manu Chao, Dimanche à Bamako.
The blind couple from Mali make un-hateable music. Even though their albums since their worldwide breakout, Dimanche A Bamako (2004,) have felt increasingly contrived, their undeniable zest for the material has redeemed them. Folila delivers a more tricked-out version of Malian blues than Tinariwen, with more English vocals than ever. Oddly electing to go with convicted (now released) killer Bertand Cantat on a full half-dozen songs, screechy, tremolo-ed slide guitar and Cantat's rockist vocals make the album sound like a scrubbed-up Fat Possum recording from the '90s.