Amadou and Mariam: Live Last Night

Live Last Night

"Welcome to Mali,'' announced Amadou and Mariam's opening number last night at the Birchmere, and the music did feature West African pop's trademarks: chiming guitar, chattering polyrhythms and call-and-response vocals. But the married couple's style has been augmented considerably since its early recordings, and not all the changes are improvements. While the duo's performance was engaging, some elements seemed off-key.

(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)

The concert's first song is also the title track of Amadou and Mariam's new album, made with the help of world-music dabbler Damon Albarn. "Welcome to Mali,'' which provided the bulk of the evening's material, requires Amadou Bagayoko to sing in English on "I Follow You,'' and Mariam Doumbia to play the neo-disco diva on "Sabali.'' Neither tune was a highlight of the show, although Amadou and Mariam sang them with, respectively, sincerity and authority. Albarn was not on hand, but an electric keyboardist took his place, filling in spaces that might better have been left empty.

The most satisfying moments came when the two musicians, both of whom lost their sight as children, reclaimed the spirit of their earlier music. That doesn't mean traditional Malian folk music; Amadou has been playing blues-rock guitar almost as long as his American models. (The new album's "Africa'' is not the Toto hit, but it's less than a continent removed from mainstream '80s pop-rock.) Such songs as "Ce N'est Pas Bon,'' whose chanted chorus ultimately yielded to Amadou's fluid guitar solo, showed the couple's knack. Whenever voice or guitar were the focus, Amadou and Mariam were in full control.


By J. Freedom du Lac |  June 11, 2009; 12:21 PM ET Live Last Night
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