Listen to Amadou & Mariam's Dimanche à Bamako on JamBase
Words by Kayceman :: Images by Josh Miller
Amadou & Mariam :: 04.28.06 :: Bimbo's 365 Club :: San Francisco, CA
There are so many types of music. Some music is meant to challenge you mentally, other types are aggressive and
combative in nature. There are political songs, love songs, and music for mindless dancing. There are introspective
songs best suited for sitting alone, there is music that is simply for the background - to set the mood, and there is
music that is meant to heal. The music of Amadou & Mariam, while infectiously dance-inducing, mood-setting, and full of love
and a bit of politics, is most certainly meant to heal.
Doumbia & Amadou Bagayoko :: 04.26
The story of Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia begins 28 years ago in the West African
country of Mali. Amadou came of age as a guitarist in Les Ambassadeurs, one of West Africa's most
successful and well known bands, while Mariam learned to sing at weddings and festivals. The two first met in 1977
at the Institute for the Blind in Bamako (Mali's capital), where they were both studying Braille. The two blind students
and musicians soon found themselves performing together in the school's orchestra. Three years later they married
and played their first gig as a duo. Since that time they have traveled the world and given birth to three children.
In the early 1990s, Amadou & Mariam made a number of cassettes that turned them into West African stars. Their
soulful Afro-pop music spread across the ocean, eventually leading to a famous French producer convincing the two
to come to Paris. The three major label albums they recorded in France between 1998 and 2002 allowed the duo to
blossom into World Music stars. Out of this success, World Music-turned-international pop star Manu Chao heard
the potential for a far greater audience. Amadou & Mariam's 2005 Nonesuch smash hit, Dimanche à Bamako (Sunday in Bamako
i>), is the result of this relationship. Taking the duo under his wing, Chao both produced and participated on this
record. Chao was able to infuse the duo's touching Malian pop-rock with an up-beat reggae rhythm that we find on
his own records. With the help of Chao's name and ear, Amadou & Mariam turned from World Music stars to pop
stars, and this is what led them to Bimbo's in
San Francisco en route to one of America's most prestigious festivals, Southern California's Coachella, and later this
summer, to Bonnaroo.
Mariam & Amadou :: 04.26 :: San
No one would ever say that Amadou is the greatest guitarist they've ever seen or that Mariam is a legendary vocalist,
but what they do together - both the songs they write and the way they perform them - is what makes them truly
special. Standing before the six-piece band amidst the swanky velvet curtains that ensconce Bimbo's (an ex-
gangster hangout from the days of prohibition), it was impossible to not fall victim to the blind duo's spell.
Watching and listening to Mariam rub her hand over her husband's head while singing in her beautiful Malian-French
accent, "Baby I love you, baby I love you. Kiss me baby, kiss me baby," I can't imagine any person with a soul not
opening their heart. And while the packed club (perhaps as crowded as I've seen Bimbo's) was clearly sitting in on a
very personal relationship, the music was never sappy or exclusive - quite the opposite. While there were tender
moments being shared on stage, the incredible rhythm section - fully-equipped with stellar bass, incredible
djembe/percussion, and top-notch drumming - always made sure that it was a party. There was not a moment over
the course of their almost two-hour set that the dance floor was not working itself into a sweat, gyrating to the
Mariam :: 04.26
As the duo's band would build an Afro-pop foundation, Amadou would weave his boogie-blues guitar through the
rhythms, darting in-and-out, at times subtly adding bright colors to the top and at others commanding attention
with passionate solos. It was clear that each member of Amadou & Mariam's band was at the top of his field.
However, what made them a remarkable backing band was their ability to let Amadou & Mariam share their music,
their souls, and yes, their vision with the audience while never crowding the performance, never searching for the
limelight - unless of course it was their time to do so. And each member took full advantage of his or her moment.
Whether it was the djembe player dancing across the stage banging out African rhythms, the keyboard player
tweaking his keys into a smoked-out dub section, or the drummer pumping out incredibly precise beats, they were
always serving the music, never just themselves. But it all comes back to Mariam and Amadou. Without Mariam's
hypnotic voice or Amadou's slinky guitar, none of it would stand out. It's the genuine love that these two pour into
their music that gives it life. Music that transcends is full of an intangible quality, something you can't fully put your
finger on, and while it comes in many forms, you always know when you are in its presence. Amadou & Mariam have
Mariam Doumbia :: 04.26 :: San
Spilling out of the capacity-packed club, there was not a face that was not smiling. New friends exchanged
pleasantries, and old friends laughed out loud. There was an unmistakable air of joy, freedom, and harmony. It
didn't matter what weight you carried into the show - the pressure of a hard work week, an empty bank account, a
world that just doesn't understand. By the time it was over, all had been released. The music of Amadou & Mariam
is meant to heal.
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