New Music: Amadou & Mariam – Welcome to Mali

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.


mojo-photo-amadoumariamwelcome.jpgIt’s a shameful fact that I came across Malian duo Amadou & Mariam’s entrancing 2005 album, Dimanche à Bamako, well into 2006, too late to include it in my “best albums” list. While the album was produced with a professional sheen by Manu Chao, it still maintained a direct line to traditional Malian sounds while expanding into more complex musical and lyrical territory. Sure, with Chao’s help, Bamako achieved international acclaim, but one can hope that it was the album’s emotional purity that resonated with listeners worldwide. The duo’s new album is called Welcome to Mali, but oddly enough, it finds them moving even further afield.

Album opener and first single “Sabali” (“Wisdom”) was produced by Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz fame, and it’s superb, a strange mashup of Gorillaz’ “Feel Good Inc.” with the rising-and-falling computerized tones and melancholy feel of Grandaddy’s “The Crystal Lake.” It’s a fascinating, retro-futuristic re-interpretation of chiming Afropop, with brief lo-fi transmissions from the past laid over the top.

Thankfully, actual guitars reappear by track 2, “Ce n’est pas bon,” with a large chorus joining in to sing the refrain, and fans of Dimanche à Bamako will appreciate the stomping beat and complex melodies of “Magossa.” But what’s amazing is how the duo manage to put their own stamp on an eclectic array of styles, whether it’s the delicate piano-opened ballad of “I Follow You” (sung in English) or the swaying reggae of “Djama.” Guitarist Amadou Bagayoko even sounds a little bit like Johnny Marr on “Djuru,” whose opening strums evoke The Smiths’ “What Difference Does It Make.”

Oddly enough, the Smiths connection isn’t really so strange, since it’s minor chords that unite much of Amadou & Mariam’s work, no matter what genre they’re exploring. Yet there’s an unfettered exhilaration that comes from listening to Mali, the same sort of expansive vertigo I got from M.I.A.’s Kala: a sense that “world music” is now profoundly decentralized, no longer “culture behind glass.” It turns out the title may mean the opposite of its first impression—rather than Mali welcoming tourists to its exotic sounds, this is an album that welcomes Mali to the world.

Amadou & Mariam’s Welcome to Mali is out on Because Music in the UK but doesn’t come out in the US until December 16th.

THE END...

of our fiscal year is Thursday, June 30, and we have a much larger fundraising gap than we can easily manage with only days left to go.

Right now is no time to come up short: If you value the hard-hitting, democracy-protecting, justice-advancing journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us keep charging as hard as we possibly can with a much-needed and much-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

THE END...

of our fiscal year is Thursday, June 30, and we have a much larger fundraising gap than we can easily manage with only days left to go.

Right now is no time to come up short: If you value the hard-hitting, democracy-protecting, justice-advancing journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us keep charging as hard as we possibly can with a much-needed and much-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate