Thursday, 26 February 2009

Amadou et Mariam

I went to see Amadou et Mariam last night at Koko in Mornington Crescent, and what a pleasure it was. Although I found the choice of venue somewhat confusing at fist, given Koko's predilection for indie club-nights, by the end of the night it seemed like a match made in heaven. The carnivalesque atmosphere was wonderfully offset by the effusive cabaret ambience that Koko's baroque interior provides.

For this whistlestop tour of England, the eponymous blind couple gave the audience a sophisticated lesson in how to perform a 2 hour set. There was no grandstand opening; instead the set built slowly and powerfully towards its epic conclusion. Lower-tempo love ballads were juxtaposed with jumpier numbers that offered the audience a complete vision of what it is Amadou and Mariam do so well. Even with the beautifully longing 'Je Pense a Toi', the urge to dance was omnipresent, and although it arguably took the crowd longer to get going than it did those on stage, there was sheer joy etched on everyone's sweat-drenched face by the end. And what an end it was. After introducing the band, and even taking in time for the 'Tourmanager', Amadou set off with 'La Réalité', and took the crowd kicking and screaming with him. Of the two, Mariam seemed the most disgruntled - she rarely smiled or even acknowledged what was taking place in front of her, but ultimately, this deference was to her credit, for when she did finally smile, it came down like manna from heaven.

I imagine that many of the Malian music purists would take issue with the new breed of music that this couple are producing, and given the number of white faces in their band, I'm sure their sound is to a certain extent being directed for them, but one would have to be a killjoy of Malvolian proportions to deny that this is fun and exciting music. I missed the 2009 Festival Au Dessert in Essakane, Mali, and it is still very much a longterm goal of mine to make it, possibly in 2010, and on the evidence of last night, it would walk all over the offerings of a certain Mr and Ms Eavis somewhere in Somerset.

The only negative I can find is that from my perspective, it looked like the Guardian had been offering free tickets in their weekend supplement, as it was one of the most white, middle class musical happenings I have ever experienced. It would have ben nice to see some black faces in the crowd, heck even some African ones, and I don't like thinking of two artists as talented as Amadou and Mariam as a form of educated white entertainment. Nonetheless, their sound is very much rooted in the Western musical tradition, particulalry Blues and early Rock, and perhaps the demographic of the audience was testament more to a shared mucial heritage than anything else. Be that as it may, this was an excellent evening and it is good to see Africa represented in a wholly positive way for once.

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