After a decade of trying, I nearly gave up on bringing Mali’s Amadou & Mariam to the Twin Cities. Over the years, Rob Simmonds at the Cedar Cultural Center and I have tried to cook up many efforts, looking into possibilities for large venues at the University of Minnesota, outdoor events like Rock the Garden, or shows at First Avenue or in one of the historic theaters on Hennepin. For one reason or another, it just never seemed to work out. The worldwide demand for the blind husband-and-wife team, the gracefully cool blues/Malian rockers, just seemed to make a tour of the Midwest less and less likely.
But stars have aligned, and three organizations—the Cedar, Sue McLean Presents and the Walker–join forces to finally bring the duo our way this coming August 7. It’s sure to be one of the great nights of international music of the year in the Twin Cities.
So what drove the last decade’s worth of effort? First they’re personal heroes of mine. Then the music: Amadou’s blues-infused Malian electric guitar playing is inventive and infectious; Mariam’s seemingly effortless singing, often skittering above or weaving around and then right in stride with Amadou’s deep voice, grabs your attention immediately. But most impressive is their openness to new sounds from all over, which has helped them redefine 21st Century African music. American R&B, Cuban Son, Egyptian and Syrian traditional music, Euro electronica, Puerto Rican Salsa, and tabla-based Hindustani music can all be heard in their recent recordings. But it never even hints at the kind of forced fusion we sometimes heard in an earlier era of world music; it seems to simply define who they are. After all, as Amadou mentioned in a very good recent Songlines article, his earliest influences were Hendrix, Cuban music, and John Lee Hooker. African music of an information age.
I also think it’s cool that they met and fell in love more than 35 years ago (at the National Institute for the Young Blind in Mali), got married and had three kids (one of whom now leads the Malian hip hop group S.M.O.D.), and have been touring the world since. Their gigs, which began in small clubs in Bamako and then Paris, are now held at events like the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Concert, the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup Championship in South Africa, and huge rock festivals like Glastonbury and Lollapolooza.
Their new Nonesuch recording Folila (out in March) reflects the couple’s ever-expanding range of influences and collaborators, featuring guest turns by TV on the Radio; Nick Zinner of the Yeah, Yeah Yeahs; Theophilus London, and Bassekou Kouyate. Check out their collaboration with Santigold from the record, the first cut to be released.
Come August, I can’t wait to welcome Amadou & Mariam, at long last, to Minnesota.
Note: If you’re a Walker member, don’t miss out – special window to buy your tickets now, before they go on sale to the general public on Friday, February 10.