Amadou & Mariam, Welcome to Mali (Nonesuch, 2009)

Malian husband-and-wife duo Amadou & Mariam have built up a healthy international following over the past few years, due to a combination of groove-oriented African rock and Amadou Bagayoko's strong guitar playing. On their latest CD Welcome to Mali, they work with a variety of producers to obtain a more eclectic sound, but the end result is at least as strong as its predecessors.

Ironically, the album's one misstep comes at the very beginning. The problem is not that "Sabali" is a weak track, it's just that it's by far the most mellow song on the album, and the sedate vocals over a synth track provided by Blur's Damion Albarn fail to set the tone for what follows. However, by the third track "Magossa," the party is in full swing. The disc moves from reggae to funk to frenzied rock, all with Amadou & Mariam's distinctively African touch. Highlights include "Je Te Kiffe," "Masiteladi," the title song, and the closing song "Sekebe."

Welcome to Mali is more overtly commercial than most African releases, and I suppose that might disappoint some African music purists. On its own terms, though, the album is a fun, infectiously energetic collection of songs. And who am I to complain about somebody embracing rock and roll?

Overall grade: A-

reviewed by Scott


No comments: