are going to be many people who will find they have three copies
of this album by the end of this year,” says the esteemed
English broadcaster and critic, Charlie Gillett. “One that they
bought themselves, the other two given by people who’ll say ‘I
heard this and thought this is the kind of thing you like’.
“And there will be people who will themselves have bought three
or four copies to give to friends, saying ‘I know you’ve sworn
you’ll never like an album not in English, but this is the one
to win you over’.”
* * *
Right now it feels like the defining album in a long and notable
career -- an album that has gone nuclear in France and looks set
to charm and capture audiences around the world.
The album is ‘Dimanche à Bamako’ (‘Sunday in Bamako’) by the
Malian duo of Amadou & Mariam. Produced by the celebrated Manu
Chao, ‘Dimanche à Bamako’ has propelled the couple high into the
French charts, along the way winning both a gold disc and a
prestigious Les Victoires de la Musique award –- the French
equivalent of the Grammys.
Such phenomenal success cements the awesome reputation Amadou &
Mariam have built throughout West Africa. They have been
together for 25 years, their personal and professional lives
long since intertwined. Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia,
however, first came together through a shared adversity. Both
are blind and they met at the Institute for the Young Blind in
Bamako, the capital of Mali.
At that time Amadou was also cutting his teeth as a teenage
guitarist in the Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako, one of the
hottest bands in West Africa during the Seventies. Mariam,
meanwhile, had grown up listening to the tunes on her father’s
radio while also singing in the myriad traditional festivals
that are a constant feature of everyday life in Mali.
Amadou and Mariam quickly became a couple, a relationship that
eventually grew to include their musical careers. The duo,
however, was constantly frustrated by the lack of professional
opportunities in Mali and, in the late-Eighties they moved to
Abidjan, the capital of neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire.
It was in Abidjan that
Amadou & Mariam first came to serious attention. They recorded a
series of five album cassettes, produced by the Nigerian Aliyu
Maikano Adamu in a five-year period, from 1988 to 1993, that
brought them fame right across West Africa.
Perhaps ironically, the prevalence of pirated cassettes in the
region only served to increase demand for the music of Amadou &
Mariam. They were certainly famous and recognised far beyond
their native Mali, their music spilling over in a rich spectrum
of textures and influences, from African pop to electric blues,
reggae and Cuban son.
In common with many artists from French West Africa, of course,
Amadou & Mariam also found a European home in Paris. From 1998
they toured heavily throughout France, at the same time
releasing three major label albums that enhanced their
reputations throughout the world.
The latter of those albums, ‘Wati’, contained a tune called
‘Chauffeurs’, an Afro-funk anthem that hugely impressed Manu
Chao, the legendary artist whose 1998 ‘Clandestino’ album had
proved to be a landmark of Latin music.
Chao heard the tune as he was driving on the Parisian freeway.
Immediately seduced by the sheer energy of the track, he fixed a
meeting with Amadou & Mariam which ended with his agreement to
produce their next album.
The result was ‘Dimanche à Bamako’, which also features Chao
joining Amadou & Mariam in front of the microphone on a couple
of songs. The album was recorded in Bamako with a stellar list
of musicians, including their friend of 30 years, the famed
keyboard player Check Tidiane Seck and Tiken Jah Fakoly, the
reggae singer from Côte d'Ivoire.
The album was released in France at the start of November 2004.
Six months later ‘Dimanche à Bamako’ had become one of the most
celebrated African albums in a generation; an album that
transcended simple genres and reached across many audiences.
‘Dimanche à Bamako’ is released in the UK on Monday 6th June
2005. It will be followed by UK club and festival dates
throughout the summer.
Amadou & Miriam Links:
The Music Of
Amadou & Mariam