Published: Jun 2, 2009
Decades after they had to leave Mali to launch any kind of career in music, Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia are its best known citizens. Dimanche à Bamako --- their collaboration with Manu Chao --- was a huge international hit. The title of their follow-op --- Welcome to Mali --- suggests that they've become their country's most effective ambassadors as well. As they begin to tour America as the opening act for Coldplay, with a few solo dates for spice, I greedily accepted a chance to chat with Amadou. He very sweetly tolerated my schoolhouse French and didn't rag on me for asking his translator to help me with his elegant French. (For those who like purity, translate what follows back into French.)
With Mariam, which came first, music or love?
Music. When I met her, she was already listening to me on the radio. She was pleased to meet me.
What is the secret of a 30-year marriage?
Be concerned about the other person's worries and take care to help her with them.
Do the blind hear better?
Hard to say. I obviously pay a lot of attention to what I hear. But it's also about touching. We value that.
You have said: "I first started on djembe [an African hand drum], then flute, then guitar. I heard a lot of Cuban music, then went on to Jimi Hendrix, Alvin Lee, Pink Floyd. I tried to incorporate all of them into my style.” Unlike your countryman, LINK Ali Farka Toure, you don't mention John Lee Hooker or other Southern blues guitarists as influences.
That's wrong. John Lee Hooker is one of my influences --- but Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd come first. I like their music because it has elements I can compare to ours. Really, in the end, we play our own music and welcome others in.
How do you write songs? Music first? Words first?
Melody comes first, then lyrics --- but it's close. The words come fast. But in our musical tradition, the lyrics and music come together. So as I'm doing the music, Mariam sings --- and it comes together naturally.
You sing, “C'est la vie dans ce monde/Triste réalité.” Those are sad words for people who have a hard life. But your music delivers a stronger message: Dance!
We think about people who have hard lives, but we don't want them to be sad. We want them to change and feel positive.
When you play for an audience, how do you perceive their mood?
We get basic information about the venue: How many does it hold? Is it sold out? But the most important information we get when we come on stage. We start by speaking to the audience. We can feel if they're hot and ready.
I certainly know that you are blind, but when you make or listen to music, what do you “see”?
Sometimes a melody brings memories. I used to see, so it can also bring colors and shapes.
Manu Choa --- a crazy angel?
You can say that he's crazy. He has a great vision.
Was it his idea for your last CD to sound like an outdoor Sunday concert in Bamako?
It was both of us. But he's the one who loves using sounds from the streets.
What was the concept for “Welcome to Mali”?
We wanted to create a heavy music richness, with many guests --- and to incorporate English for the first time.
You have three children. What's their reaction to your long-overdue stardom?
They're proud. It's a delight for them. Our first child sings, our third child is a journalist, so we feel we've passed something on.
You're spending much of the summer touring with Coldplay. As you know, Coldplay's Chris Martin is married to Gwyneth Paltrow. Are you worried that Mariam will go shopping with Gwyneth?
I'd be pleased if that happened. And I'd be happy to go shopping with Gwyneth too.
To read about “Welcome to Mali” on HeadButler.com, click here.
To buy "Welcome to Mali" from Amazon.com, click here.
To download “Welcome to Mali” from Amazon.com, click here.
To read more about “Dimanche à Bamako” on HeadButler.com, click here.
To visit Amadou and Mariam's site on MySpace, click here.
To listen to “Welcome to Mali”, click here.