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June 11, 2009

Amadou and Mariam: Mali's Power Pop Duo


Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz fame wrote the melody for Amadou and Mariam's song "Sabali."

by John Oseid

Hundreds of indie rock fans poured out of Lower Manhattan's old vaudeville theater Webster Hall a few nights ago, buzzing all the way into the subway after watching Malian duo Amadou and Mariam tear down the house.

Resplendent in her golden boubou and designer sunglasses, Mariam sang the gentle "Sabali" (Patience) from the new album Welcome to Mali, her wistful voice floating over a gentle electronic beat. Then Amadou showed off wicked blues guitar skills on songs like "Ce n'est pas bon," about political corruption, while high-octane djembe and tama drummers (not to mention those backup singers' lithe dance moves) had the crowd whooping it up. For their encore, A&M reprised their joyful 2005 hit "Beaux Dimanche," whose simple repetitive refrain "Dimanche à Bamako, c'est le jour de mariage" (Sunday in Bamako, that's the day of marriage) closed the show. 

When I got home and flipped on the tube, there A&M were again, singing "Africa" with Black Thought of The Roots on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. The gracious couple, who met decades ago in a Bamako school for the blind, are savoring their joy ride of new international acclaim. You can catch them tomorrow at the Bonnaroo Festival, and on July 10 the couple will open a series of dates for Coldplay. (Those lads have a  tough act to follow.)

More music:
* Amadou and Mariam's breakout album, Dimanche à Bamako, was produced by the eclectic Franco-Spanish star Manu Chao, who has a cameo appearance in the "Senegal Fast Food" video.
* At Webster Hall, the duo also sang the older romantic tune "Je pense à toi." I love the video.
* On the Nonesuch Label site, Damon Albarn talks about creating a Piaf chanson sound for "Sabali."
* Boom Box: An unabashed gusto for music of the world.

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