Wedded, blissful sounds out of Africa
Published 09/05/2013 | 04:20
It is more than a decade since 'the blind couple of Mali', as Amadou and Mariam were initially marketed, came to prominence in Europe.
Since then they've sung with Coldplay and U2, Dave Gilmour and Johnny Marr and become the most successful musical export of their continent this century. According to Damon Albarn, who produced one of the songs on their last album: "I don't think there's ever been a band from Africa with whom people have engaged in quite such a way."
The husband and wife duo sing along to Amadou's electric blues guitar to create an extraordinary sound. It's one they've created for many years. They met at Mali's only school for the blind. Amadou lost his sight as a teenager, while Mariam's blindness was a consequence of catching measles when she was just five. They're certainly unusual in the world of music, but Mariam insisted they were more than a novelty act.
"People know we are blind, but it is our work – it is what we do – that counts most to them. People are surprised by the quality of our music, and the way we are able to play with other musicians – that is what amazes them. It helps them realise that whether you are blind or not, you can work, you can make music."
Amadou recalled how, as a young boy, his failing sight meant that he wasn't allowed to join the annual fishing festival with his schoolmates. Two local musicians invited him to join them, and when the townsfolk heard the three playing, they offered them part of their catch.
"I got more than my schoolmates had got by fishing," he said. "A voice inside me said: 'Amadou, your illness prevented you going into the water. But your music got you more fish'.''
Mariam made her first recording at the age of 22 in 1980, the year she and the 26-year-old Amadou married.
They released a number of cassettes, and their popularity slowly spread across west Africa. In 1996 they moved to Paris and recorded their first album outside Africa.
The new album, Folila, which translates as 'Music' ("We slightly ran out of inspiration," said Moreau) was recorded in Rome, Paris, New York and Bamako, and features the Scissor Sisters, TV On The Radio, Santigold and French singer Bertrand Cantat.
If you haven't heard this pair sing, don't miss this chance. The warm sun of Mali is about to shine on wet, grey Belfast for a couple of hours. Wear shades.