By Amadou & Mariam
Amadou and Miriam are a husband and wife duo. They have been making music together since they met over thirty years ago at the Institute for Young Blind People in Bamako, Mali.
As a kid, Amadou had an interest in Western blues-rock guitar bands like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, and this can be heard on 'Welcome to Mali.'
Amadou and Miriam seem to attract attention now from the West not only because of their music, but for whom they acquaint themselves with. Their last producer was the French singer and political activist Manu Chao and now they have Damon Albarn on their side. Damon Albarn, as well as producing this album, also plays a bit of keys. I can't quite imagine what venture he'll be moving onto next; it seems like he has conquered a lot in music.
In 2006, Amadou and Miriam were awarded with the BBC Best Album and Best African artist award. And with appearances on Jools Holland, they are one of the most sought after Malian outfits around.
From the title 'Welcome to Mali' I would expect it to be an introduction to the music of Mali. But it mixes traditional Mali song with influences from the rest of the world. The traditional instruments on show include a Turtle flute, Djembe, Malian violin, Balafon (xylophone) and The Kora (a 21-string harp-lute). In contrast to this, the album starts with the song 'Sabali,' with carousel-like synths and a slow disco Gorillaz-esque beat.
What I will remember from this album, come six months time, will be the next track: 'Ce N'est Pas Bon.'
The title translates to "it is not good." With help from my French-speaking sister, I learnt that this song is about dictatorship.
It has a strong, simple message. It reflects an outlook from a country which has only had an elected government since 1992. I couldn't resist re-playing it with its funkiness, playfulness and, most importantly, its underlying message.
Whereas I am in awe of much of their music, unfortunately the English songs have little lyrical substance. 'I Follow You' is a very cheesy love song and while others may love it, it's just not for me.
It is hard to pigeon-hole all of 'Welcome to Mali' under the phrase of 'World music,' because it has a larger scope than that. At times this album transcends genre and taste.
Unfortunately, by the end of the album I am left liking two of the songs over the rest. I'd rather be left reviewing their single 'Ce N'est Pas Bon' perhaps with 'Sabali' as a B-side, and giving that a 5/5.