Amadou & Mariam
Welcome to Mali
Label ©  Because
Release Year  2008
Length  1:04:45
Genre  Ethnic
Personal Star Rating [1-5]  
  Ref#  A-0155
Bitrate  192 Kbps
    Track Listing:
      Ce n'est pas bon  
      Je Te Kiffe  
      Compagnon de La Vie  
      I follow you (Nia na fin)  
      Welcome to Mali  
    Additional info: | top
      Review by Thom Jurek

      Following the wildly successful Dimanche a Bamako in 2008, World Circuit decided to bring the blind Malian duo Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia to American shores. Welcome to Mali, issued here on Nonesuch, is their debut in the United Stares (we're always last, even the Canadians were in on the debut, and their hotshot rapper K'Naan appears on one cut). Blur's Damon Albarn was enlisted to help out here -- and he does as a co-writer and producer on the album's opening track and first single "Sabali." It's a killer track, with waves of Malian blues and incantatory singing, especially from the plaintive voice of Mariam, which contrasts well with the grainy, more guttural inflections of Amadou. Albarn also adds waves of gentle but pronounced electronica and some fine basswork, and pushes Amadou's raw guitar into the forefront. The rest of the set -- whose only real flaw is how long it is -- is filed with infectious Malian folk music threaded through with European pop influences. And does it ever work. The best cuts, such as "Compagnon de la Vie" with its funky Hammond B-3, "Ce N'Est Pas Bon" with its driving guitar and marimbas, and the traditional "Djuru" are simply infectious with their rhythmic invention and meld of voices. There is even a love song in English here, "I Follow You," that works despite the corny lyrics. The title track -- also in English -- is pure funky goodness with its killer meld of Malian folk forms, perfusion, and European-style street funk. Ultimately, Welcome to Mali is an auspicious and welcome introduction to Amadou & Mariam, whose music has universal appeal and breaks new ground for Afro-pop worldwide.

      Pitchfork Review :

      2005's Dimanche Bamako rocketed Amadou & Mariam to international acclaim more than three decades after the beginnings of their respective musical careers. It was a richly deserved arrival that retained the spirit of their music with new beats and sounds incorporated by global pop star Manu Chao and his co-producers Marc-Antoine Moreau and Lauren Jais. On Welcome to Mali, Moreau and Jais stick around to steer the duo toward a harder, more outright pop approach.

      Damon Albarn also drops in to produce the opening track and first single "Sabali", one of the best things he's been involved in this decade. The song opens in overtly nostalgic territory, with Mariam Doumbia's resigned opening lines run through a light filter, but it soon jumps into a different realm, with her falsetto sweeping over mournful keyboards. It's not every day you hear an African record that uses ELO as a touchstone, but this song does it to devastating emotional effect.

      That opening shot is part of an eclectic landscape that at times sounds West African and at others sounds completely divorced from geography. Dimanche Bamako, which means "Sunday in Bamako", Mali's capital, felt like a product of that city. Welcome to Mali, however, seems a strange title for a record that sounds so global. The dramatic string arrangement on the English-language "I Follow You" is distinctly European, while Canadian/Somali rapper K'Naan's shout-out to the "original West Coast-East Coast collaboration" could either refer to Africa's East and West Coasts or to Africa's West Coast and America's East Coast-- the two ends of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

      Sequencing is important, too-- the Western strings of "I Follow You" come on the heels of the solo-bowed instrument that lends a place-less feel to "Bozos". Amadou's guitar is a little less prominent on this record than the last, but close listening reveals impressive stylistic dexterity as he moves from simple strumming to fluid melodic playing to staccato rhythmic patterns inspired by the Malian ngoni, a cousin of the guitar.

      Somewhat improbably, Amadou & Mariam have become a musical laboratory where the two principle players, the blind couple from Mali, are willing to try nearly anything. Ivorian reggae star Tiken Jah Fakoli drops in on one track and it feels completely natural. Pianos aren't common in Africa because the weather makes it tough to keep them in tune, but there's piano all over this album, and it sounds great rubbing up against koras (17-string West African harp) and balafons (West African marimba). On the title track, Amadou's guitar accents the chorus with big, bent surf chords, and it sounds not only logical but inevitable.

      "Inevitable" is a pretty good word for the stardom of Amadou & Mariam. People this amazingly talented and open to new sounds and ideas rarely remain obscure, especially after so many years honing their craft and building their catalog. On further examination, in fact, Welcome to Mali might not be such a strange title after all. This album is an affirmation of global connectivity and an emerging global culture that transcends and repurposes tradition as it sees fit-- the sound of Mali merging with the world at large.

      Joe Tangari, November 18, 2008
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