Keeping spirits at an all time high, the latest release from Amadou & Mariam soars like a majestic firecracker. As blind Malian musicians, the couple have had their fair share of strife but they’ve still retained a spectacular amount of optimism and it’s this above all else that shines through. Since featuring in Damon Albarn’s Africa Express project they’ve befriended a plethora of popular western artists, many of whom are featured on Folila, with Santigold, Theophilus London, and TV On the Radio all making significant contributions.
Despite some curious partnerships the end result is not as scattered as you might think. This is an Afro-blues record and the contributers merely add a sheen of their own sound to the recordings, which works wonders. No doubt too much western influence on these tracks would make for a very busy recording, so instead they’ve nailed it by keeping their cheerful bluesy sound at the helms. ‘Wily Kataso’ (feat. TV On the Radio) is one of the stand outs, Tunde Adebimpe’s voice fits snugly in between the duo’s flittering vocals. It’s tracks like this and ‘War’ (feat. Amp Fidler) that prove the worth of these collaborations, when it works it really does float down some slick avenues although that success is not necessarily ubiquitous – ‘Oh Amadou’ (feat. Bertrand Cantat) does sound a bit like a dehydrated Chris Cornell has been roaming the African Plains for too long. Fortunately it’s not a recurring theme, as the rest of Cantat’s appearances on the record are thoroughly enjoyable.
Folila is really two albums forged together. On one side you have the western collaborations recorded in New York and on the other lies the more rootsy African tracks that were cut in Bamako. Besides the switch from modern drum kit to traditional Malian percussion, the collaborations are never too far removed from the more homegrown tracks. At no point does the album seem disjointed and in a similar style to the couple’s vocals, everything segues beautifully. Just like Tinariwen, Mulatu Astatke, and Fela Kuti before them, Amadou & Mariam are proving that African music will continue to find an international audience.