Album Reviews

Amadou & Mariam – Folila

(Because) UK release date: 2 April 2012

Amadou & Mariam - Folila It’s often forgotten that acclaimed Malian husband and wife duo Amadou & Mariam were happily making music in West African obscurity for over two decades before finally enjoying crossover success with their 2004 breakthrough album, the Manu Chao-produced Dimanche à Bamako. In commercial terms though, it was certainly worth the wait, as the accolades have rarely stopped since and the fifty-something couple are right up there at the top of the world music tree, a permanent fixture on the European festival circuit and with leading Western artists falling over themselves to join them on record.

The famous friends first started appearing on the 2008 follow up to Dimanche à Bamako, the enjoyable but somehow less fresh and exuberant Welcome To Mali, which featured the Somali-Canadian rapper K’Naan and production by the ubiquitous Damon Albarn. On new album Folila though, the trickle has become a flood, with almost every track boasting a different collaborator. And while it’s still unmistakably an Amadou & Mariam record, the roster of impressive guests once again does little to develop further what’s already a pretty successful formula.

The tracks on Folila – meaning ‘music’ in the Bambara language – were originally intended to be spread over two records; one a crossover collection recorded in New York City with the likes of Santigold, Scissor SistersJake Shears and TV On The Radio, the other a more rootsy album recorded in Bamako with mostly African guests and instruments. Both projects ended up happening, but when Amadou and Mariam listened back to the two sessions, they opted to take the third way and combine the best of both worlds into one seamless whole.

This process isn’t entirely successful, as the two different styles do still stand out from one another from time to time, not least on opening track Dougou Badia, featuring some searing guitar from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner and Santigold lending her strident tones to a spirited duet with Mariam. Metemya starts off with a typically exuberant Afro-funk guitar figure and vocal from Amadou, but the arrival of Shears’ camp falsetto in the background is a shrill distraction rather than an enhancement to the sound. In contrast, Nebe Miri fares better; this song could sit comfortably on Dimanche à Bamako were it not for Brooklyn rapper Theophilus London’s occasional interjections, but these blend effectively into the whole without distracting.

Of the more quintessentially Malian material, the desert blues of Bagnale has many similarities with the work of fellow crossover successes Tinariwen, largely due to the powerful contribution of Tuareg guitarist Abdallah ag Oumbadougou, while Folila closes with the welcome simplicity of Cherie; just Amadou & Mariam as a duo as of old, chanting softly over some lovely, gently cascading kora and an infectious, shuffling rhythm. In this one song, they prove that they don’t need the help of others to be at their best; often just being themselves is even more compelling.

With their eclectic cocktail of rock, pop, blues, jazz, soul, funk and traditional African music, these grandparents can still knock out an irresistible groove to match the best, but perhaps they need to be reminded that they should do it alone a little more often.

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More on Amadou & Mariam
Amadou & Mariam – Folila
Amadou & Mariam and The Beating Wing Orchestra @ Pavilion Theatre, Manchester
Amadou & Mariam @ KOKO, London
Amadou & Mariam – Welcome To Mali