They met at Mali’s Institute for the Young Blind, married, made a succession of cassette albums and ended up recording the offi cial theme for the World Cup, supporting Scissor Sisters and appearing at the Lollapalooza festival. Safe to say, the story of Amadou & Mariam is not that of your average band.
The dilemma they now face, with the ears of the West now fully open to their music, is how to approach their new audience: keep it real and risk alienating the potential mainstream listenership or embrace the opportunity and potentially lose their heart and soul?
The first impressions of Welcome To Mali suggest a worrying shift to the latter. Produced by Damon Albarn, opening track -Sabali’ is a disaster, drifting far too close to the sound of the Pet Shop Boys for comfort. Thankfully, it’s the only time they put a foot wrong. Under the watchful eye of long-term collaborators Marc-Antoine Moreau and Lauren Jais, the album strikes the perfect balance. It sounds crisp and clean, as big as a modern rock record should, but never loses sight of the source material. The pair’s voices are bristling with both experience and energy, singing in a tongue that is just familiar enough to give it some grounding, yet still exotic. While every track has an undeniably Western sheen to it, there are always reminders of where this came from as Amadou’s gloriously raw guitar peeks through or the massed vocals saw. It’s funky as hell too, capable of fi lling any dance-floor across the globe. Wonderful stuff, however you want to translate it.