Artist Profiles: Amadou & Mariam

Amadou & Mariam

During the 1960s, in Bamako, Mali, a young girl of six used to appear at local festivals by popular demand. On the other side of the tracks, three blocks away, a ten year old boy played the tam-tam, the flute and harmonica like a virtuoso. Neither knew the other existed. They never saw each other, yet years later they married, had children, and invented their own unique and beautiful music. Some paths are chosen by destiny, and this is definitely one of them. The road of a duo, and a couple: Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia, the blind couple of Mali.

At the age of 14, Amadou joined the National Orchestra B, where he learned to sing and took up the guitar, playing in the orchestras of Niarela, Koutiala, and Sikasso. Amadou wasn’t born blind, but at a very early age a cataract forced him to enter the Institute for the Young Blind. No doubt it was to meet Mariam, the little girl now grown, a singer-songwriter whose strong voice and unique stage presence had made her the treasure of the institute and already acclaimed by the public thanks to her song, “Qu’ ai-je fait á Dieu pour mériter cela?”(“What did I do to God to deserve this?”) From the moment they met, it was like the song says, “Whatever the path, we’ll hold hands.” But their difficulties started at the same time- their families were worried, and it wasn’t easy to accept this union between the two physically impaired artists: “Life is a combat, and we are its combatants”.

United by their passion for music, they moved forward. Amadou played with Manfila Kanté and Salif Keita in the legendary group called the Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako, appearing in Paris (France), Lagos (Nigeria), and the Ivory Coast. Six years later, after playing together both in the orchestra and at the Institute, which Amadou now managed, they began to suffer from the absence of professional music structure in Mali, and so thy left.

The Ivory Coast welcomed and acclaimed them. The couple produced their first five albums there between 1988 and 1993. The adventure was a success, and pirate recordings didn’t prevent them from earning a living through their music. Famous and recognized, they returned to the arid soil of Mali, from which they extracted the unique boogie that molded their style. With subtle and syncopated rhythms that evoke streams flowing over stones, with light guitar riffs conjuring wood drying under the noon sun, and with high-pitched voices exclaiming the blues, Amadou and Mariam weave melodies that make the head spin. The lyrics, in Bambara, Prul, Dogon, and French, come in through an easily opened door to portray the day-to-day existence of universal, timeless man, one which even non-African people can identify with. Amadou and Mariam sing of a world they have never seen, but through their ‘vision’, the real world appears before our eyes as if born out of a sixth sense.

The duo has become one of the leading world music attractions in France, capturing the attention of popular performer and producer Manu Chao, who produced and appeared on their album Dimanche a Bamako (Sunday in Bamako). This disc was a gold record in France, where it was released in 2005.

Discography:

Le Couple Aveugle Du Mali Vol.1 (Maikano, 1989)
Le Couple Aveugle Du Mali Vol. 2 (Maikano, 1990)
Le Couple Aveugle du Mali Vol. 3 (Maikano, 1992)
Sou Ni Tilé (EmArcy, 1998)
Tje Ni Mousso (Polydor, 1999)
Wati (Universal Music Jazz France, 2002)
Dimanche À Bamako (Because Music, 2004)
Paris – Bamako (Because Music, 2005)
Se Te Djon Ye (Sonodisc, 2005)
Welcome To Mali (Because Music, 2008)
Remixes (Because Music, 2010)
Folila (Because Music, 2012)
La Confusion (Because Music, 2017)

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.

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