Amadou & Mariam -- Dimanche Á Bamako (Nonesuch, 2004) and Je Pense Á Toi (Universal Music, 2005)

Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia met as students at the Mali Institute for the Young and Blind. Not only did they fall in love and get married -- against the wishes of their parents, who didn't think two blind people marrying was such a good idea -- but they forged a successful musical partnership that carried them from Mali throughout Western Africa and up into France, which they have used as a springboard to healthy CD sales in Europe. Now Amadou and Mariam have set their sights on the American world music market with the release of Dimanche Á Bamako, a collection of new songs, and Je Pense Á Toi, a compilation of the best songs off their three previous French-produced CD's.

Both discs combine lively West African musical traditions with rock influences. Amadou and Mariam take turns singing, while Amadou also plays an excellent lead guitar. Not surprisingly, given that it pulls songs from three albums, Je Pense Á Toi is the more consistently strong of the two. Dimanche Á Bamako also suffers a bit from producer Manu Chao inserting himself too much into the proceedings, instead of just letting Amadou and Mariam do their thing. Still, the song "Coulibaly" is great, groove-oriented African rock, and Dimanche Á Bamako boasts a couple of other worthy tracks as well. These two discs will appeal to anybody interested in African music or good guitar music in general.

Overall grades:
Dimanche Á Bamako B
Je Pense Á Toi A-

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