When you're a blind Malian husband and wife duo playing a fusion of traditional African music alongside rocking Western influences (blues, electronic music, soul, classic rock), you probably won't have to try very hard to attract the attention of world music fans who eat up everything from artists like Beirut or Toumani Diabate. Amadou and Mariam
, however, have more than earned the loyal following that has amassed around their music since Dimanche a Bamako
and Welcome to Mali
knocked our socks off. Their brilliant amalgamation of pop from around the world into something that anyone, anywhere on the planet could appreciate and fall in love with. Their latest album doesn't find the band breaking new ground but simply re-confirming our belief that few other artists have the same ear for the core of rock and pop as Amadou and Mariam.
Their latest album, Folila
(which is simply Malian for "music"), has an interesting backstory. When Amadou and Mariam finally decided to make their first new album since 2008's Welcome to Mali
, they were going to make a double album. Each side would consist of the same songs, but one side would be recorded with an all-star line up of western musicians in New York (TV on the Radio, Santigold, Betrand Cantat, Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, etc.) while the other side would be recorded back in Mali with a Malian backing band on traditional instruments. After they finished the two versions of the album, Amadou and Mariam realized that the best way to tackle this project would be to combine the two universes into a single-sided LP exposing the world to the best of both visions. They made the right choice.
Whether we're talking about the blues of album opener "Dougou Badia" (feat. Santigold), the psychedelia of "Baro" (feat. Betrand Cantat), or the dance-pop of "C'est Pas Facile Pour Les Aigles" (feat. Ebony Bones), Folila
never ceases to be a thrilling blend of past and present, third world and first world, and analog and digital. I've seen Amadou play live once (during an impromptu jam session with French band The Two), and his guitar virtuoso is finally allowed to shine on this album. He is perhaps one of the most under-rated guitarists in modern rock. He isn't simply proficient in several different veins of rock and roll; he's excellent in nearly all of them and when it comes to blues guitar, we'll let old school pro-wrestler Ron Simmons provide our response
I don't speak a single word of French so I'll be honest in saying I have no idea what the songs are about. In the ensuing years since Welcome to Mali
, legions of fans have translated the songs lyrics for those of us who don't speak any French, but it's still too soon for that with Folila
. Regardless, even though I never knew what the songs were about, I could always feel the emotional heart of the music and Amadou and Mariam's voices haven't gotten any worse with age. There were plenty of moments when the sheer funkiness and passion of the music had me dancing in my seat even though my daily caffeine had worn off and I would have otherwise been falling asleep. This album may not mark the same jaw-dropping response that we first got upon discovering Amadou and Mariam, but at this point, we know the band and we know what their wheelhouse consists of. They may not reinvent the wheel or their sound on Folila
, but it's still an undeniably fun and impressive record.