Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia, a married couple from Mali who first met at an institute for the blind, have been making music together in one form or another since 1976. Through recordings and joyously energetic live shows, the pair attracted a following that grew exponentially with the release of Dimanche À Bamako in 2005. Produced by Manu Chao, a musician who never met a stylistic boundary he couldn’t ignore, Dimanche brought the sound of Amadou’s masterful guitar work and the pair’s yearning vocals into a setting that sounded like tomorrow’s radio. Chao ceded producing duties on the new Welcome To Mali to the duo’s longtime collaborator Marc-Antoine Moreau—with some assistance from high-profile fan Damon Albarn—yet Mali sounds even more forward-leaning.
Amadou has always had his ear to the ground. In a recent profile in The Guardian, he talked about admiring Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, and Pink Floyd as an up-and-coming musician. Here, he and Mariam sound less like they’re chasing trends than relishing the big, layered textures allowed by a studio setting. Welcome To Mali sounds heavily produced but not overproduced, and even with the pings and whizzing, Amadou’s playing and the pair’s singing insure it never sounds less than organic. Of course, the songs don’t hurt, either. The Albarn-produced “Sabali” is an ethereal highlight, while “Africa” provides a nice showcase for Somali rapper K’Naan without missing a beat. But guests and all, the album remains Amadou & Mariam’s show, whether it’s Mariam singing against her husband’s whisper-thin notes on “Djuru,” or Amadou sweetly pledging devotion on the English-language “I Follow You.” As ever, this collaboration sounds as intimate as eavesdropping, but too passionate to ignore.