The 'joyful music' of Amadou & Mariam

African music stars interviewed ahead of GIAF 18 Big Top concert

Amadou & Mariam. Photo:- Juliot Bandit

Amadou & Mariam. Photo:- Juliot Bandit

MUSICAL MAGIC from Mali will be sure to light up the Heineken Big Top on Wednesday July 18 when husband and wife duo Amadou & Mariam unleash their irresistible brand of Afropop on Galway.

To quote The Guardian: "Anyone who has seen them live will know that that they are rousing, no-nonsense exponents of a distinctive fusion of African influences, R&B, blues and rock." Amadou & Mariam songs often start with distinctly Malian elements, such as lively call-and-response vocals, and blues-based rhythms, that can be alternately dreamy and danceable - all of which should add up to a classic GIAF concert.

Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia met as teenagers when both attended Mali's Bamako Institute for the Young Blind (Amadou lost his sight as a teenager while Mariam has been blind from the age of five ). It was not long before they started making music together, commencing a career that has seen them become one of the hottest acts on the world music circuit. “We were already playing and singing individually before we met,” Amadou tells me. “It was nice when we met and start playing together at several local events and reunions. We got on together very well and shortly after meeting we started working on making our own music and recording our first tapes.”

Amadou & Mariam’s early recordings were issued on cassette and their growing popularity in West Africa led to them being invited to Paris, where their first album, Sou Ni Tile, was released in 1998. Their real breakthrough came in 2004 with the album Dimance a Bamoko. One reviewer described it as being, "like a fast, bumpy taxi ride straight into the heart of the Malian capital...thrillingly immediate, like the soundtrack to a jump cut-filled, color-saturated documentary". The album won numerous international awards and led to high-profile international tours for the couple.

'Our music has elements of rock, traditional African music, Afrobeat, blues, and electro'

They collaborated with Damon Albarn and shared the stage with the likes of Coldplay, Scissor Sisters, and Pink Floyd's David Gilmour. Subsequent albums like 2008’s Welcome to Mali and 2012’s Folia further consolidated their reputation, making them much in demand on the major festival circuit. Last year saw the release of their most recent album, La Confusion.

"This project represented for us a step forward on our own music," Amadou declares. "Musically we wanted to keep mixing our African spirit with the tendency of nowadays and we introduced more keyboards and a more dancing atmosphere on them. The result is an 'African pop' record, we could say. My guitar and our vocals are still for us our brand and how they symbolize Mali/Africa to us, our roots. But we also liked that the album has a rock side still, too."

La Confusion features more electronic and dance sounds than the duo’s previous releases. Amadou tells me how this came about; “We always wanted to explore and mix our traditional sound with some new influences. This electronic vibe comes from the producer Adrien Durand and his band. It was our label who suggested we work with him and we were open to hear new ideas and suggestions. He is a young musician and producer who plays in a French group called Bon Voyage Organization. Plus we got some very nice approaches from several DJs who wanted to remix our songs, like Cerrone and Henrik Swartz.”

'We’re really looking forward to coming to Galway and introducing our music to audiences there'

“We are very happy with how La Confusion turned out,” Amadou continues. “It has elements of rock, traditional African music, Afrobeat, blues, and electro. We gave it this title because it’s a complex time in the world at the moment. There is always confusion everywhere. In our songs, there are many metaphors regarding this situation, but men and women must continue to talk about what is going on.”

Amadou & Mariam’s home country of Mali has had its share of turmoil in the past few years, with the northern part of the country falling to Islamic extremists who imposed Sharia law and banished music (and musicians ) from areas under their control. I ask Amadou have these issues affected his and Mariam’s music?

“The situation has affected all of us in many levels, and we sing about that on the album," he says. "The title track ‘La Confusion’ in some ways reflects the situation, not only in Mali but all over the world. How events and information runs so fast that people have no time to understand what is happening. ‘Femmes du Monde’ also treats about the situation of women in Mali, ‘Boufou Safou’ urges the listener to get out and do something with your life and work for your community. But we also like to balance those kinds of lyrics and message with some joyful music to dance and enjoy.”

On that note, are the couple looking forward to playing at GIAF? “Yes!” Amadou declares enthusiastically. “We’re really looking forward to coming to Galway, being part of the line up with great artists, and introducing our music to audiences there.”

Tickets for Amadou & Mariam are €27/€30 via www.giaf.ie, 091 - 566577, or the festival box office, Galway Tourist Office, Forster Street.

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