All Eyes on Amadou & Mariam
Ellison, Jesse, Newsweek
Byline: Jesse Ellison
Mali's magic couple.
it's been some 30 years since Amadou & Mariam first broke onto the world-music scene. Since then, the "blind couple from Mali" has shared the stage with everyone from Stevie Wonder to U2, becoming one of the most popular and well-respected acts within a genre that is neither, nor. But with their new album, Folila, out on April 10 from Nonesuch Records, the couple is set to break free of those Putumayo shackles.
Folila--which means, simply, "music," in their native Bambara--is a happy accident, of sorts. The pair had set out to produce two separate records: one to be recorded in New York City, the other to be recorded at home in West Africa, staying close to the rhythms and melodies of their roots. Instead, the twin efforts became one--with the New York recordings meticulously laid over those taped in Bamako, Mali. Its list of collaborators reads, as one critic observed, "like a hipster's wet dream," and includes Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters, Santigold, Ebony Bones, and Nick Zinner of Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
The album is best, however, when the couple is on their own, as on the track "Sans Toi." It may be that the biggest benefit of these guest stars lies less in their musical contributions than in their ability to attract listeners who might otherwise dismiss the genre and its poster children altogether. …