Amadou & Mariam Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, ON June 4
Published Jun 05, 2009Thirty years after meeting at Bamako, Mali's Institute for the Blind, guitarist Amadou Bagayoko and singer Mariam Doumbia appear at complete ease on stage together, belying the simmering, dynamic show they deliver. Last year's Welcome To Mali introduced hordes of North Americans and existing European fans to their richest fusion yet of African pop, Western rock, and Saharan desert blues (among a host of other genres, incorporating Cuban son to dance floor electro and Malian tribal music), all picked up from their 2005 breakout disc Dimanche à Bamako.
Escorts lead Amadou and Mariam onstage as the crowd roars and the two drummers (kit and percussion) call it in with kick mallet thumping and djembe trilling into an upbeat swing for Welcome To Mali's title track. Mariam calmly stands beside her husband, as he sways along with the throbbing desert riffs he spills over layers of bass, drums, and synthesizer. By the fourth track, "Ce N'est Pas Bon," which Mariam begins with a chant before the instruments come in, she flashes more teeth from behind her dark glasses, feeding intuitively off the crowd's rapt admiration. (Some people even speak French and know the words - yes, in Toronto.)
The couple take the band into the rousing "Africa," as calmly as if playing to a tiny Malian club rather than a packed Canadian concert hall. With between-song banter in matching, effortless French drawls, they move through Welcome's chanting echoes ("Sabali") and Amadou's first sizzling guitar solo (through the hammering "Masiteladi") before the disco pulse and bouncy djembe beats on Dimanche à Bamako's "Coulibaly."
"On y va," proclaims Amadou. "Are you ready? Let's go!" His lead guitar imbues each musical framework with that rippling desert blues wail, whether synth-heavy dance lines, funk progressions or straight rock beats. He bows, sways and crouches during solos with smooth, graceful African dexterity.
On a sweet note, Mariam intermittently strokes Amadou's head and shoulders during songs, including the lone number in English, the ballad "I Follow You." Other treats like the interlocking percussion cleverly arranged on "Djuru" and lively interludes between the djembe player and the two dancers during the joyous "La Réalité" add yet more elation to a show that already felt like a 100-minute musical embrace.