Amadou and Mariam
Affectionately known as "the blind couple of Mali," husband-and-wife duo Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doubia have been making joyous, guitar-based pop together since they were married in 1980. The two met in 1977 when they were both studying Braille at the Institute for the Blind in the Malian capitol of Bamako. The two teenagers were already well versed in music, Mariam having an outstanding singing voice and Amadou learning his trade as a guitarist for Les Ambassadeurs, one of the great African pop bands of the era. They first performed together in the institute's Eclipse Orchestra, but eventually left to perform their own original music.
In 1986 this ambitious pair left Mali for Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoirethen a bustling center of the African music industry. There Amadou and Mariam recorded a series of cassette-only releases that helped make them stars in Mali and launch their musical career abroad. These early cassettes were raw and rootsy, crackling with the duo's young creative energy and driven by Amadou's protean guitar sound. In short, they were pure African rock 'n' roll.
While enjoying success at home, their music was also falling on the right ears in Europe and in the mid-1990s the duo relocated to Paris at the invitation of a French producer. There they recorded three albumsSou Ni Tilé, Ge ni Mousso and Watibetween 1998 and 2000. These albums further developed Amadou and Mariam's unique Malian pop sound, and the higher production values made their music accessible to a whole new audience.
In 2004 Amadou and Mariam recorded their breakthrough record, Dimanche à Bamako. Produced by legendary Parisian musical adventurer Manu Chao, the album burnished the duo's pop sensibility to a fine sheen while roughing up their music with the all the extraneous sonic mayhem of a 21st-century metropolis. Mariam's sweet-and-sour voice rose serenely above sirens and samples as Amadou unleashed his inner Jimi Hendrix. The album made Amadou and Mariam bona fide pop stars in France (where they won a Les Victoires de la Musique, the French equivalent of a Grammy) and a sensation all over Europe.
Dimanche à Bamako was released in the United States in 2005 and it enjoyed critical and commercial success without ever cracking the pop charts. A short but successful tour followed, introducing "the blind couple from Mali" to a whole new audience. Tom Pryor