Amadou & Mariam
Since they first met at a school for the blind as teenagers in the mid-1970s, nothing truly fundamental has changed in the way Malians Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia make music together. Before they wed, Bagayoko played guitar in Les Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako—the juggernaut that introduced the world to singer Salif Keita—but from their first recordings as a couple, the music was defined by blazingly soulful tandem singing and hypnotic, cycling guitar riffs. For the last couple of decades the duo has displayed a steady willingness to set that carefully honed bedrock sound within all kinds of diverse settings, a flexibility that allowed them to become one of the African continent’s biggest acts.
As the Chicago Reader wrote, “The blind Malian couple have built a career tweaking and modernizing traditional Mande forms, first by underlining affinities with American blues and then by opening up their sound to outside producers, especially Franco-Iberian star Manu Chao, who has helped them achieve global fame.” Since collaborating with Manu Chao on the 2004 album Dimanche À Bamako they’ve consistently allowed a wide array of collaborators to experiment with their core sound.
The couple has welcomed producers in to auto-tune their voices, bulk up beats with four-on-the floor kick drums, drape synthesizer washes over the elastic grooves, and shepherd in various guest instrumentalists. On their most recent album La Confusion there’s a delicious tension between local tradition and global modernity. At the time of its release Pitchfork wrote, “The title is an expression of gratitude addressed to God, even in the most trying of times. It’s a sentiment that resonates broadly: La Confusion offers uplift in a time of global insecurity.” In the years since that sentiment has only grown more urgent, and we can be grateful for the longevity of the couple’s sonic essence.