Amadou & Mariam are, together, one the most remarkable musical acts performing today. Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia first met in Mali’s Institute for the Young Blind when they were still children - both having lost their sight at a young age. Each a keen music fan, they first performed together as part of the Institute’s Eclipse Orchestra. In 1980 they married and have performed together as a duo ever since.
They first made a name for themselves playing Malian blues in sparse arrangements of guitar and voice, before relocating to Cote d’Ivorie in 1986. It was there, having released a number of cassettes, that the pair were introduced to Stevie Wonder and subsequently began playing festivals around the world. A move to Paris in 1996 developed the duo’s style further as they began to mix their traditional Malian sound with a range of other influences from rock guitar to Indian tabla and Cuban jazz.
In July the pair bring their incredible sound and story to Southbank Centre. So, to give you a flavour of what to expect, here are five must-watch performances from the remarkable Malian duo, starting with a neat, stripped-down performance for National Public Radio’s Tiny Desk Concert series.
Having performed in the airy office of a US broadcaster, switching to a cramped East London studio didn’t require a huge imagination jump. But that shouldn’t in any way take away from this beautifully crafted intimate mini-set of tracks from their album La Confusion, recorded for Boiler Room.
Don’t let these two stripped-down performances lull you into thinking Amadou & Mariam can only play a small room. You certainly don’t amass a forty-year career in music by sticking to studios and lounges. No, the duo can go big too, as shown with this gloriously gritty, bassy version of Bofou Safou, performed on Later… with Jools Holland.
In 2008 Amadou & Mariam were part of Africa Express, an incredible line-up of African talent that performed at London’s KOKO as part of the BBC’s Electric Proms. Here, backed by a stage heaving with musical legends - including Johnny Marr on guitar and Damon Albarn on tambourine - Amadou & Mariam delivered a seismic version of their 1999 hit, Mon Amour.
Last but certainly not least, something to bring a smile to your face as Amadou & Mariam wrap their distinctive sound around one of Pink Floyd’s most iconic tracks. You’ve heard Money before of course, but unless you’re reading this in Bamako, you’ve probably never heard it sung in Bambara.