ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Amadou And Mariam made their international breakthrough in 2005 with the album "Dimanche a Bamako" produced by world music luminary Manu Chao. Our music critic Robert Christgau says their new effort "Welcome To Mali" is even better.
ROBERT CHRISTGAU: The self-billed blind couple of Mali have been recording since the '80s, and they've never been strictly Malian about it. Here's a bit of Amadou and Mariam's "Chantez-Chantez," a title you may recognize as French for sing sing. It's the lead track of their 1999 album "Tje Ni Mousso".
(Soundbite of song, "Chantez-Chantez")
AMADOU AND MARIAM (Musicians): (Singing in Foreign Language)
CHRISTGAU: The unison singing is atypical for them, usually they split the vocals. But the thick, rockish tone of husband Amadou Bagayoko's guitar is almost a signature. And then there's the underlying riff, the kind of bluesy thing you think you've heard before — for good reason.
(Soundbite of song, "Higher Ground")
Mr. STEVIE WONDER (Musician): (Singing) People keep on learnin'.
CHRISTGAU: I couldn't swear that Amadou and Mariam copped that riff from Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground" and don't think less of them if they did. That's the way they've operated for a long time and they're good at it — never better than on their brand-new "Welcome to Mali." The opening track is the very atypical, keyboard-dominated "Sabali." It's getting attention from alternative rock fans because it's produced by Damon Albarn and Gorillaz.
(Soundbite of song, "Sabali")
Unidentified Person: (Singing in Foreign Language)
CHRISTGAU: Well, you could say what's African about that? It's cheesy French electro-pop. And that's true — only it's terrific, even daring cheesy French electro-pop. Usually, African artists who flatter the Euro-American audience come off compromised. Amadou and Mariam absorb ideas from anywhere and sound like they're having a ball. Listen to "Welcome to Mali" and you'll notice harmonica, disco (unintelligible), the Somalia-born rapper K'Naan, plenty of garage guitar and the synth riff from Stevie Wonder's "Superstition." But that doesn't mean the album isn't basically Malian. On this song, Mariam Doumbia's sweet admonitions meld with Toumani Diabate's kora and traditional West African djun djun drums that sound electronic.
(Soundbite of song)
Ms. MARIAM DOUMBIA (Musician): (Singing in Foreign Language)
CHRISTGAU: The Bambara words of that song are about buying on credit, which makes it one of the more specific on the album. Amadou and Mariam are not great lyricists. As attractive as their worldly melodicism is, it's hard to imagine an English-speaking act getting away with generalizations as simplistic as: hypocrisy in politics, it's not good, we don't want any. But when we get to the heartfelt vows of "Compagnon de la Vie," - companion for life - I say Amadou and Mariam, together over 30 years now, have earned a pass.
(Soundbite of song, "Compagnon de la Vie")
AMADOU AND MARIAM: (Singing in Foreign Language)
SIEGEL: Amadou and Mariam's new album is "Welcome To Mali." Our reviewer Robert Christgau writes the Consumer Guide to CD's at msn.com.
This is NPR, National Public Radio.