Amadou & Mariam

Welcome to Mali

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Following the wildly successful Dimanche a Bamako in 2008, World Circuit decided to bring the blind Malian duo Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia to American shores. Welcome to Mali, issued here on Nonesuch, is their debut in the United Stares (we're always last, even the Canadians were in on the debut, and their hotshot rapper K'Naan appears on one cut). Blur's Damon Albarn was enlisted to help out here -- and he does as a co-writer and producer on the album's opening track and first single "Sabali." It's a killer track, with waves of Malian blues and incantatory singing, especially from the plaintive voice of Mariam, which contrasts well with the grainy, more guttural inflections of Amadou. Albarn also adds waves of gentle but pronounced electronica and some fine basswork, and pushes Amadou's raw guitar into the forefront. The rest of the set -- whose only real flaw is how long it is -- is filed with infectious Malian folk music threaded through with European pop influences. And does it ever work. The best cuts, such as "Compagnon de la Vie" with its funky Hammond B-3, "Ce N'Est Pas Bon" with its driving guitar and marimbas, and the traditional "Djuru" are simply infectious with their rhythmic invention and meld of voices. There is even a love song in English here, "I Follow You," that works despite the corny lyrics. The title track -- also in English -- is pure funky goodness with its killer meld of Malian folk forms, perfusion, and European-style street funk. Ultimately, Welcome to Mali is an auspicious and welcome introduction to Amadou & Mariam, whose music has universal appeal and breaks new ground for Afro-pop worldwide.

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