Having been nominated for Grammys, French Victoires de la Musique prizes, supported bands such as Blur, Coldplay and U2, as well as performing at the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, there’s no denying that Malian duo Amadou & Mariam are musical icons. With a back-catalogue of 20 years, they brought an effervescent, empowering and thought-provoking set to Concorde 2, made up of their brilliant fusion of disco, funk and traditional Mali music. A Friday night at Concorde 2 usually looks a lot different to this, so this was a pleasant surprise and a wonderfully unique evening.
With a newer sound that slightly eschews their Malian roots for a more funk, disco and soul sound, I was slightly worried that they’d do the same in a live setting. However, with an excellent six-piece band behind them, including backing singers, bongos and bass, they still carry all of the elements that made their breakout, Welcome to Mali, so excellent. Aside from Songhoy Blues, who are no doubt influenced by the duo, there’s no one else around the globe right now bringing world music to a mainstream audience and they should be heralded for it.
With a set largely surrounding last year’s La Confusion, their first album in five years which garnered them their most mainstream success for years, it was a funk-laden show that fell beautifully in tandem with the luscious warm evening glow outside on the seafront. It’s no surprise really, for an album we described as “Disco-funk-soul embellishment”, that from the first notes of Amadou’s guitar on opener ‘Ta Promesse’ the crowd reacted with thunderous applause. In fact, throughout the night it was a case of watching on with sheer awe of the duo’s talents. For good reason, too, as for sheer musicianship it’s hard to beat the Amadou & Mariam ensemble.
Of course, breakout single from La Confusion, ‘Bofou Safou’, was the highlight. Not only is it the best example of the success of the duo’s move into the world of disco but, with its slinking synths, exciting guitar line and Nile Rodgers’ style bass, it’s an incredibly upbeat song that the audience quickly became immersed in. One of the joys of the duo and their band, in fact, was their clever use of crowd interaction. Of course, with over three decades in the game you shouldn’t be surprised by this, but with frequent hand clapping, cheering and dancing along, there was hardly a line between band and audience.
The Amadou & Mariam story is certainly an uplifting one – having met at the Institute for Young Blind in Bamako back in 1975, they have subsequently fallen in love and worked together since – and it’s an atmosphere they portray on the live stage. With lyrics largely urging people to stand together in these tough times, as well as a beautiful amalgamate of world music and funk, this was an uplifting, rapturous showcase of the power of music and a glorious coming together of music fans from young to old. As a summer showcase, this was an utter delight.