Blindness No Barrier: Music of Amadou and Mariam

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Amadou and Mariam

Musicians Amadou and Mariam are a husband-wife duo from Mali. hide caption

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Malian performers Amadou and Mariam met during the 1970s at the Institute for the Young Blind of Mali. The husband-and-wife team have overcome numerous obstacles, from blindness to living under a military dictatorship. Banning Eyre reviews their CD, Dimanche a Bamako. They began a U.S. tour this week.


Amadou and Mariam are a husband-and-wife duo from the West African nation of Mali. They met at an institute for the blind in the 1970s and made their recording debut as The Blind Couple of Mali. It was a simple guitar and vocal affair, but from those humble beginnings, Amadou and Mariam now have one of the biggest-selling African pop records ever. It's called "Dimanche a Bamako." Banning Eyre has this review.

BANNING EYRE reporting:

The first thing you need to know about Amadou and Mariam is that they were never traditional musicians. Sure, they grew up in the milieu of ethnic root sounds popular in Malian cities in the '70s, but if you ask them to name musical heroes, the list usually starts with Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles and Pink Floyd's David Gilmour. A few licks from Amadou's Stratocaster guitar pretty much tells the story.

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AMADOU AND MARIAM: (Singing in foreign language)

EYRE: After releasing six local cassettes and three international CDs, Amadou and Mariam found a fan and producer in Manu Chao. A star in his own right and a maverick in Europe's world music scene, Chao sought them out in a Paris studio where they were already at work on a fourth CD. It didn't take him long to pick up a guitar and join in. And when he offered to produce the album, the Malians didn't hesitate.

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AMADOU AND MARIAM: (Singing in foreign language)

EYRE: Manu Chao's light, playful, at times provocative and eccentric touch is evident throughout these 15 tracks. The song "Senegal Fast Food" builds a bubbly jangle of a groove, classic Manu Chao, but Amadou and Mariam's blues-edged unison vocals are right at home in it.

(Soundbite of "Senegal Fast Food")

AMADOU AND MARIAM: (Singing in foreign language)

EYRE: Despite its unconventional sound, this album is popular in Mali. Amadou says the big hit is "Dimanche a Bamako," which celebrates the open-air wedding celebrations that typify a Sunday in the Malian capital.

(Soundbite of "Dimanche a Bamako")

AMADOU AND MARIAM: (Singing in foreign language)

EYRE: Love songs and positive vibes are Amadou and Mariam's stock-in-trade, but near the end of the album, Manu Chao slips in a little controversy. Slyly teaming up with Amadou and Mariam's rapping son, Chao pulls together a stinging critique of self-serving politicians. The message might be a stretch for Amadou and Mariam, but Chao stretches, too, singing the opening verse in Bambara, Mali's main language. That's the sort of gesture that makes "Dimanche a Bamako" special. It's a collaboration where everyone tries something new, but no one's true nature gets lost in the mix.

(Soundbite of music)

AMADOU AND MARIAM: (Singing in foreign language)

BLOCK: Our reviewer in Banning Eyre. The album is "Dimanche a Bamako" from the duo Amadou and Mariam.

(Soundbite of music)

AMADOU AND MARIAM: (Singing in foreign language)

MICHELE NORRIS (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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