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Mali's Amadou & Mariam combat 'confusion' with disco

By Alison Hird

Malian husband-and-wife duo Amadou & Mariam are one of west Africa's most successful acts. On their latest album La Confusion they use a blend of Afro-pop and disco to evoke upheavals in their country and offer a message of hope.

Several songs on the album, the couple's eighth, refer to these troubled times, not least in the northern part of their native Mali, which has been in and out of the hands of armed Islamists since 2012.

"It’s hard, times are hard, there’s insecurity and hate everywhere," they sing in French on C’est chaud.

"Every time you turn on the radio there’s bad news," Mariam told RFI. "Everyone’s stressed at the moment, you can feel it even in concert halls."

The blind couple felt the need to express a certain sense of confusion.

"There are no rules anymore, there’s confusion everywhere, you don’t know what’s real, what’s fake," says Amadou. "The worst thing is no one is listening to anyone else."

Amadou & Mariam's music - with its catchy dancefloor groove - is their way of responding.

"People have to dance, too," says Mariam. "Especially when they're sad. We can lift people's spirits through our music."

Amadou & Mariam ©Hassan Hajaj/Because music

 

The album features blues, afro pop and, on the song Bofou Safou, a good dose of disco.

"Bofou Safou is about people who may have lots of qualifications but don’t have the courage to change or look for another job," says Amadou. "So they lie in bed and do nothing. They leave no trace."

"We're saying 'Don’t be a good-for-nothing, don’t sit there with your arms folded, depending on others, do something'," Mariam adds.

Risks taken to build career

Amadou and Mariam are certainly not Bofou Safou: they didn't sit back with their arms folded waiting for the phone to ring.

They met in the 1970s at the institute for young blind people in Bamako. In 1980 they left Mali to try their luck in Côte d’Ivoire.

"At the time there were no recording studios in Mali, no producers, no distributors," says Mariam. "But we took fate in our hands and went to Côte d’Ivoire, even though we didn’t know anyone. At our first concert, there were just two people. But we believed in ourselves, we stayed and carried on."

In the late 80s they began releasing cassettes and made a name in west Africa.

They had a first hit in France with Je Pense à Toi (I'm thinking of you) but their big break came in 2004 largely thanks to Manu Chao's production work on the song Dimanche à Bamako (Sunday in Bamako). It won gold at the French equivalent of the Grammy awards, the Victoires de la musique.

Now international stars, the African power couple play at rock festivals, count Damon Albarn among their fans, and performed in front of former US President Barak Obama at the Nobel peace prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway, in 2009.

"Our ambition was to play music, to get known in Africa and then France," says Amadou. "But what we’re living through now is beyond our wildest dreams."

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