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Review: Stylistic mix enlivens Amadou & Mariam

By David Bauder
AP Entertainment Writer / April 9, 2012
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Amadou & Mariam, "Folila" (Because Music/Nonesuch)

Most of the blind African couple Amadou & Mariam's music is sung in Bambara or French, already a barrier to entry for many English-speaking music fans.

For their new disc they traveled to New York for sessions with guest artists TV on the Radio, Santigold, Theophilus London and members of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Scissor Sisters. Then they went home to Mali to record the same songs with African musicians using instruments like the ngoni and doumdoums, and the French singer Bertrand Cantat.

Unable to decide between two approaches, they dumped the tapes in the hands of producers with the request to meld the different versions into one.

Let's be honest. That sounds like an utter disaster, doesn't it?

The fact that it isn't, and may even be this duo's most enjoyable disc yet, is nothing short of miraculous. Credit the driving, rhythmic guitar playing of Amadou as the element that ties many disparate elements together. This is thrilling, catchy and complex music that satisfies even if you haven't a clue what they're singing about (although the package includes an English translation of the lyrics). That's no small feat.

CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: The alluring interplay of guitar, harmonica and violin on "Sans Toi" feels like happening upon a hip party in the desert.

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