Guitarist Amadou Bagayoko and singer Mariam Doumbia have several albums, all endlessly inventive, to their credit. But it’s only now with the release of the marvellous Dimanche à Bamako that the two blind Malian musicians are being given the industry support necessary to propel them towards an audience wider than that provided only by the Francophone world.
Whether that’s because of the distinctive presence of producer Manu Chao or because their time has come – that the couple keep up a fierce live schedule certainly helps – it’s hard to say. But what is certain is that Dimanche à Bamako is a superbly nuanced album that shades a gentle, sinuous Malian pop with an R ‘n’ B palate. Amadou, a guitarist whose early inspiration came from Eric Clapton, is a powerhouse here, setting a pace that ranges from the lullaby-like ‘M’Bife’ to the fancy fretwork of ‘Coulibaly’. Manu Chao’s touches are spottable: the jaunty riffs on ‘Camions Sauvages’, ‘Senegal Fast Food’ or ‘Taxi Bamako’ are sonic siblings to the Frenchman’s hit album Próxima Estación Esperanza. But Dimanche à Bamako has its own integrity, ensured by Mariam’s understated vocal presence and some compelling arrangements that include the background sounds of kids playing on many of the tracks. While this album’s lyrics (sample: ‘Politics is violence’) won’t win Amadou & Mariam a prize for political theory, somehow that’s not the point.