Arts Desk

Amadou & Mariam Bring Afropop to the Birchmere Wednesday

Amadou & Mariam, who will be at the Birchmere Wednesday, have been performing together since 1980. However, only in recent years has this blind Malian couple started reaching a sizable audience on this side of the Atlantic.   Their wonderful latest cd, Welcome to Mali, is catchy, creative Afropop, not purist traditional Malian folkloric music or obscure abrasive Sublime Frequencies style international sounds (and I like those approaches as well btw). Mali came out in 2008 overseas, but Nonesuch only recently released it here.  Just as their 2005 Dimanche a Bamako went global via mixing traditional Malian desert blues guitar, Afropop melodies, and Islamic-rooted vocals with producer/collaborator Manu Chao’s ska  and Western pop, Welcome to Mali mixes their home country’s sounds with psychedelic guitar, African rap courtesy of K’naan, and some programmed funky beats.  Plus Malian kora great Toumani DiabateDamon Albarn of Blur did some production this time around, and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour recently joined them onstage for a set as did Johnny Marr.  These guests have helped the duo get attention beyond the world music ghetto.  But what makes their music special is not their patrons, but the stringwork and vocals of 54 year-old guitarist Amadou Bagayoko, who started in the 1970s with legendary Malian group Les Ambassadeurs.  Mariam Doumbia’s enchanting, high-voiced lead vocals and harmonies are often hypnotizing, but it is Amadou’s rhythms that drive their songs forward, and his joyous feeling choruses (I don’t speak the languages) that make the tunes transcendent.

Wed. June 10 at 7:30    Amadou & Mariam and band with openers Farafina Kan (local dance and percussion group) in the Birchmere Bandstand room,  3701 Mt. Vernon Ave., Alexandria, VA  (703) 549-7500. $35

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