Release Date: Mar 24, 2009
Record label: Nonesuch
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If you hadn't ever heard a record by this Malian husband and wife duo, but had only read of their initial meeting at Bamako's Institut des Jeunes Aveugles in the punk rock year of 1976, and the heart-warming showbiz odyssey that led them to their current exalted status as improbable figureheads of African music's commercial upsurge, it would be all too easy to think of Amadou & Mariam as a kind of Afropop Peters and Lee. But while the ability to dispense feelgood vibrations from within a doubly reinforced stockade of blindness and domestic felicity has been a feature of their ever-widening allure, it is the spindly irresistibility of their music that is the most important thing about them. Both the powerhouse blues-rock guitar of Amadou Bagayoko and the sweetly stentorian voice of Mariam Doumbia contain severity as well as gentleness.
To compare Amadou & Mariam to piano-soul juggernaut Stevie Wonder purely on the basis that all three artists share a common disability would be a gross oversimplification - especially since their similarities do stem far beyond their common blindness. In the same vein as that of Stevie Wonder, the music of Amadou Bagayoku and Mariam Doumbia boasts a discernibly indomitable spirit. It is both hard-grooving and, consequently, helplessly addicting, infused with an essence of optimism and pocked with exuberance.
Amadou and Mariam have become African superstars and, like many super- stars, they now have a problem: what on earth do you do to follow up a major hit record? The blind Malian husband-and-wife team had already been recording for 17 years, crafting their own distinctive blend of gutsy African blues-rock and funk with limited commercial success, when they teamed up with Manu Chao to record the massively commercial Dimanche à Bamako. In the three years since its release, their lives have been transformed. Chao sensibly pulled back, and Amadou and Mariam began to target pop audiences, breaking into the French top 20 and bringing a new western following to African music.
Review Summary: A latecomer to the 2008 party, the blind couple from Mali have surely made one of the most enduring records of this year.Amadou & Mariam's last album, 2005's Dimanche �* Bamako, couldn't possibly have been more worthy. It was like a Guardian reader's ultimate treasure trove - a blind, African husband-and-wife team, produced by the eternally hip Manu Chao, making the kind of 'world music' that simply has to exist in every accountant's record collection. It was good, for sure, but it was also just a little too easily dismissed by anybody who dislikes tokenism.So the blind couple from Mali have gone away and done the artistically AND financially smart thing - dumped Manu Chao and made a pop album.
If Amadou and Mariam’s last album felt like a shift in the couple’s career then Welcome to Mali feels like an even greater one. Someone who was disappointed by Dimanche à Bamako might have consoled herself by thinking that the album was a one-off, an aberration, a fling with Manu Chao that didn’t need to be repeated. “They’ll be back to normal after this,” that person might have said.
Bumpy ride to a foreign landBack in 2005, this blind Malian couple stormed the planet with a kaleidoscopic disc called Dimanche à Bamako, which married glittering melodies to an irrepressible rhythm. Their new record is inferior to Dimanche, but in charitable moments it’s possible to interpret Welcome To Mali as an introduction to the sonic experience of a 21st-century West African nation. I love to imagine a country where the synthetic disco-pop of “Sabali” rubs up against the traditionalism of “Djuru,” which uses the kora, a griot instrument reminiscent of the harp.
Damon Albarn’s splendidly atmospheric keyboards and production move Amadou & Mariam, the blind blues couple from Mali, beyond their comfort zone — much as globalist rocker Manu Chao did for the duo’s 2005 breakthrough, Dimanche a Bamako. Chao returns on Welcome to Mali for a couple of tracks, yet the pair’s focus has clearly shifted back to the earthy funk of guitarist-bandleader Amadou Bagayoko, which served as their calling card before they resettled in Paris more than a decade ago. The old formula, while rootsy, gains much from the injection of variety.
It’s hard to go wrong with Amadou and Mariam. Mali’s most accessible musical export has it all: a unique sound, musical craftsmanship, a sense of adventure and a great backstory. The duo of Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia met at the Institute for Young Blind People in Bamako, fell in love, and have been making sweet, catchy music ever since. Their journey is the stuff of legends.
2005's Dimanche a Bamako percolated more like a mic-check to producer Manu Chao's own La Radiolina than this blind Mali couple's much ballyhooed Western outage, and though Damon Albarn opener "Sabali" swings London, A&M's follow-up bottles their joyous West African boogie. Dancing desert blues refract Parisian pop while still best at home in the title trance, "Africa," and hard-jangled closer "Sekebe." .
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