Amadou and Mariam met when they were part of the orchestra at Mali’s Institute for the Young Blind in Bamako in the mid-1970s. It was the beginning of not just a musical relationship but a romantic one as well – they have been married only slightly longer than they have been playing together (about 22 years and nineteen years respectively). In those nineteen years they have released seven albums, with the latest, Folila, released on 3 April. From Africa’s musical heartland, Amadou and Mariam’s early work is uncommon in its sparse, simple aesthetic, standing in contrast with the vibrancy of Ghanain High-Life and Nigerian Afro-Beat. Their sound quickly developed, incorporating the couple’s diverse global influences, the results being the creation of ‘Afro-Blues’. It is a complex fusion of musical elements from Cuba, Syria, the UK, USA, France, Sengal, Ghana, Nigeria, India and Egypt as well as, of course, Mali. To celebrate the release of their new album we look back at a few of their best songs.
Je Pense a Toi (1998)
Je Pense a Toi represents a turning point in Amadou and Mariam’s career, their first notable success outside Africa. The song was a hit with French radio and the single sold well in the Francophone world. Upon hearing the record Manu Chao approached the couple to produce their next album.
Senegal Fast Food (2004)
The result of the collaboration was Dimanche a Bamako, a mature album bursting with vitality. The lead single, Senegal Fast Food, features Manu Chao’s vocals as well as Amadou’s signature blue-grass guitar and the couple’s use of harmonised indigenous chanting.
Celebrate The Day (2006)
Since the success of Dimanche a Bamako, Amadou and Mariam have received a lot of attention from Western artists. They have performed at festivals across Britain and America, supported Blur, Coldplay and Fatboy Slim, worked with the Magic Numbers, and even featured on the 2006 official World Cup anthem – Celebrate The Day.
Damon Albarn, of Blur and Gorillaz fame, was so impressed with the couple he collaborated with them on their new ablum, writing and producing Sabali, which pushed Amadou and Mariam out of their comfort zone into the world of electronic music. The track features Gorillaz-style toy-town synth, simple percussion, and Mariam’s haunting vocal stylings. It was a controversial and daring move which split critics and fans, although ultimately the response has been very positive, with Pitchfork ranking it in their top tracks of the noughties and it being covered by Nas and Damian Marley.