Sixth album, and second for the eclectic French label Because--following 2005's Dimanche A Bamako
, by Malian world music superstars Amadou & Mariam. Triumphing over adversity (they are both blind) to achieve worldwide celebrity status, this husband and wife duo continue to expand the boundaries of African music, fusing it with blues-rock, electronica and pop. Collaborators on this release include Damon Albarn--whose love of Malian music is well known --and Somali rapper K'Naan.
Amadou and Mariam, the married couple from Bamako, have, since the release of their Manu Chao-produced Dimanche Ã Bamako album in 2006, become the world music act that it's safe to admit to liking, whether you be a tie-dye wearing Womadian or a skinny-jeaned indie kid. Hell, they even had a number one in Germany with the official theme for the World Cup. They've achieved all this through their riveting and uplifting live shows and also by simply being musically marvellous; blending their Malian blues with Western pop savvy, all backed up by Amadou's blistering guitar. Welcome To Mali will, it's safe to say, only increase their standing. It's a gem.
Having been part of the recent Africa Express shows it's no surprise that the hand of the ubiquitous Damon Albarn appears at the controls on the opener, Sabali. Luckily he's tweaked the sound in exactly the right direction, focussing on the sweet pop tones of Mariam, underscoring it with charming synthesizer arpeggios. Elsewhere the production still leaves space for some arresting contemporary tricks. It brings home the reason that Europe has taken them to its heart - their style, not unlike Bob Marley's, is resilient enough to withstand any amount of Western tinkering.
A number of other guests appear, yet the fact is A & M are just too good to let anyone showboat all over their album. The usually mighty K'Naan (the Somalian-via-Canada rapper) sounds fairly weedy, lost in the dizzy horn blast of Africa. The grins of the pair are almost audible as they run the gamut of styles from the reggae of Djama and Je Te Kiffe to the call and response of Ce N'est Pas Bon or the more traditional Djuru and the heavy, heavy guitar licks of Masiteladi. Later the slower blues of their homeland is allowed to stretch out on the langorous Bozos.
It's a mix of the deceptively simple and rhythmically irresistible. Good times most definitely guaranteed. --Chris Jones
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