Followers of World Music have known Amadou and Mariam for over a decade, before they became popular in France and, later, in the rest of Europe. Their single Je pense à toi was a hit on French radio, and their album Dimanche à Bamako was well received throughout the old continent. Amadou and Mariam are in their mid-50s. They met at Bamako’s only school for the blind and later married. "In those days - Amadou says - being blind was the worst thing that could happen to you in Malian society. It was tantamount to being a beggar".
As a child, Amadou realized the importance of music in his life when, due to his handicap, he could not take part in the annual fishing festival in Douentza, 800km from Bamako, where his father was posted. Two local musicians invited him to join them and play the flute. When the townsfolk heard him playing, they offered part of their catch. “I got more fish than my schoolmates, Amadou wrote in his memoirs, and a voice inside me said: your illness prevented you from going into the water, but your music got you more fish”.
When he was 26, Amadou married Miriam, who also was interested in music and had some recording on her back already. 14 years later, a French producer, Marc-Antoine Moreau, travelling in Mali heard a song by the duo and enquired about the musicians. As it turned out, the lady playing the cassette was Mariam’s sister. They were invited to Paris where they recorded their first album outside Africa, Sou Ni Tilé, which comprised the famous Je pense à toi.
Their new album – Folila - was released in March. Recorded in Rome, Paris, New York and Bamako, it sees the appearance of many guest musicians. Indeed, only two tracks are exempted by guest singers. In this album, the authors continue their experimentation with different musical styles from Mali, and the mixing with Western music. The result is generally good. Amadou and Mariam have produced once again 13 songs that will have a market both in Africa and in Europe.
Dougon Badia, the opening track, is a good example of this mix of tradition and modern music. It is a good song, full of life and the diverse influences come together seamlessly. The Wassoulou influence is clear in Wili Kataso, the second track. The third song – Oh Amadou – well ... forget it! The river Blues, made famous by other Malian musicians, reverberates in Wazi.
The impression one gets is that the long list of guest singers does not help. As a matter of fact, the two tracks that are performed only by Amadou and Mariam are the best. These are San toi, once again the Wassoulou sound is herd in the background, and Cherie. Cherie is a real surprise. At least, I was pleasantly surprised by the sound and rhythm, unusual and from time past (I do not mean ancestral time, but the 1960s, when both musicians were in their childhood).
All in all, this is a good album. If one looks for the spark of genius, he will not find it. Yet, the music is pleasant, the African roots are there, and the mix with European styles is well balanced. One only hopes Amadou and Mariam be bold enough to propose their fans in Europe an album truly African, from the lyrics to the instrumentation. The Western public is ready to welcome such production, and the two Malian singers do not need guest supporters to sell their product.
Mepukori ole Karam