OBAMA INAUGURATION DAY on January 20, 2009 shapes up to be an event to remember for many historical reasons. One of the more mundane reasons will be the invitation extended by president elect Barack Obama to the Malian duo Amadou et Mariam. Their presence at inauguration day among other renowned artists such as Beyonce, Jay-Z or Leona Lewis got the blogosphere buzzing.
Amadou and Mariam, the married couple from Bamako, have, since the release of their Manu Chao-produced Dimanche à Bamako album in 2006, become the world music act that it’s safe to admit to liking, whether you be a tie-dye wearing Womadian or a skinny-jeaned indie kid. Hell, they even had a number one in Germany with the official theme for the World Cup. They’ve achieved all this through their riveting and uplifting live shows and also by simply being musically marvellous; blending their Malian blues with Western pop savvy, all backed up by Amadou’s blistering guitar. Welcome To Mali will, it’s safe to say, only increase their standing. It’s a gem.
Having been part of the recent Africa Express shows it’s no surprise that the hand of the ubiquitous Damon Albarn appears at the controls on the opener, Sabali. Luckily he’s tweaked the sound in exactly the right direction, focussing on the sweet pop tones of Mariam, underscoring it with charming synthesizer arpeggios. Elsewhere the production still leaves space for some arresting contemporary tricks. It brings home the reason that Europe has taken them to its heart - their style, not unlike Bob Marley’s, is resilient enough to withstand any amount of Western tinkering.
A number of other guests appear, yet the fact is A & M are just too good to let anyone showboat all over their album. The usually mighty K’Naan (the Somalian-via-Canada rapper) sounds fairly weedy, lost in the dizzy horn blast of Africa. The grins of the pair are almost audible as they run the gamut of styles from the reggae of Djama and Je Te Kiffe to the call and response of Ce N’est Pas Bon or the more traditional Djuru and the heavy, heavy guitar licks of Masiteladi. Later the slower blues of their homeland is allowed to stretch out on the langorous Bozos.
It’s a mix of the deceptively simple and rhythmically irresistible. Good times most definitely guaranteed.