Amadou & Mariam— Mali’s Musical Husband and Wife Duo

Amadou & Mariam is not only Mali’s most successful music export throughout the ages, but also one of the biggest acts of the entire African continent. After several years of silence, Amadou & Mariam returned at the end of last year with the acclaimed album “La Confusion”.

For nearly four decades, the duo has been mixing different styles and influences in their music. With the foundation of their own African soul, they have explored everything from disco to hip hop.

The story of Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia is one of the more inspiring in modern music history – a love affair that led to two blind visionaries from Mali to climb top lists around the world, win numerous prizes and direct the audience’s attention to what life can look like in Mali

Singer Mariam and guitarist Amadou met at a school for the blind in Bamako, Mali as teenagers and formed a romantic and musical partnership that’s lasted ever since.

A musical husband-and-wife duo who got their start in Mali, Amadou & Mariam met in 1975 at Mali’s Bamako Institute for the Young Blind. Amadou (born Amadou Bagayoko in Bamako in October of 1954) began his musical career in 1968, and by 1974 had joined Les Ambassadeurs du Motel, a leading group (which counted Salif Keita as a member) in his home country. He wound up at the aforementioned institute after becoming blind as a teenager through a congenital cataract. His future wife, Mariam Doumbia (born in Bamako on April 15, 1958), was already at the institute (she became blind at the age of five), studying Braille as well as teaching classes in dance and music. Over time, the pair would have a huge influence on the artistic programs at the school, with Amadou directing a group of pupils and Mariam handling lead vocal duties for the school orchestra.

Amadou-Mariam

In 1980, the pair married and decided that they would make a good collaborative musical team. Over the next five years, they performed in their home country, and Amadou’s solo career and work won him many accolades and awards. In 1985, the two toured out of country for the first time, with shows in Burkina Faso. In 1986, Amadou & Mariam, realizing that Mali and its distinct lack of recording resources would be a major hindrance to their career, opted to move to the neighboring Ivory Coast. There they began to release a series of cassettes (with help from the Nigerian producer Maikano) that would become the foundation of their later successes. By 1991, the pair had released four volumes of their work on cassette, and the buzz was great enough that, in 1994, they were invited to Paris to perform and record new music there.

Although the resulting sessions were never released, Amadou & Mariam kept on, and in 1998 they released their first CD album, Sou Ni Tile. From 1998 to 2002, a series of releases highlighting their early work (both together and solo) preceded their next album, Wati. In 2003, world music luminary Manu Chao began to work with the couple, and in 2004 Amadou & Mariam emerged from the studio with what was to be their landmark album, Dimance a Bamako. The success of the album led to tours, awards, and accolades from all over Europe and Africa.

In 2005, they released a live album and DVD, and in 2007 got involved with Damon Albarn (of Blur and Gorillaz fame) and his Africa Express project, which played the famous Glastonbury Festival. That same year, Amadou & Mariam performed at Bastille Day celebrations, as well as opening up for the American rock act Scissor Sisters in England. Released in 2008, Welcome to Mali featured guest appearances by K’Naan, Keziah Jones, -M-, Toumani Diabaté, Tiken Jah Fakoly, and Juan Rozoff, as well as production help from the aforementioned Albarn. The Magic Couple followed in 2009. The duo performed in Albarn’s multi-artist Africa Express concerts, and, more recently, performed at the informal L’Afrik C’est Chic jam sessions with various special guests in London and New York.

In 2010 their joint autobiography Away From the Light of Day was published in the UK by Route Publishing. On 11 June, Amadou & Mariam appeared on FIFA’s Kick-Off Celebration for 2010’s World Cup, hosted in South Africa, alongside Alicia Keys, John Legend, Tinariwen and Shakira in front of 80,000 people and hundreds of millions of TV viewers. That same year, Amadou & Mariam contributed the song “Tambara” to the Enough Project and Downtown Records’ Raise Hope for Congo compilation. Proceeds from the compilation fund efforts to make the protection and empowerment of Congo’s women a priority, as well as inspire individuals around the world to raise their voice for peace in Congo. Welcome To Mali was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Music Album at the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards. They were chosen by Matt Groening to perform at the edition of the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival he curated in May 2010 in Minehead, England.

In February 2011, Amadou & Mariam performed as one of the support acts for U2 during the Johannesburg and Cape Town legs of their U2 360 Tour. In July, they performed their first concerts in the dark, Eclipse, which were commissioned by the Manchester International Festival. They went on to stage these shows in London in November 2011, and in Paris in January 2012. In 2011, they also became ambassadors for the World Food Programme. They travelled to Haïti and offered a new song “Labendela” (Children are the future) as an anthem. Their early biography Away From The Light of Day was published in the US.

Their eighth album Folila was released on 2 April 2012. Folila, which means “music” in Bambara, was recorded in Bamako and New York with special guests including Santigold, TV On The Radio, and Jake Shears. The first single of the album “Dougou Badia” was released on 20 January. The track featuring guest appearance of Santigold, was hailed by the NME as “a chuffing great masterstroke of genre-less genre mixing”.  In France, the track “Oh Amadou” which is a duet with Bertrand Cantat, was chosen as a single.

On 22 September 2017 they released their album La Confusion.


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