There's nothing harder than creating the follow-up to genius.
The next Shakespeare play produced after "Hamlet" was...."The Merry Wives of Windsor."
Michael Jackson's follow-up to "Thriller" was..."Bad."
Harper's Lee next book after "To Kill A Mockingbird" was...nothing.
In 2005, Amadou and Mariam released "Dimanche a Bamako."
It's a spectacular collection; I'm not the only listener who would make sure I had it with me on a trip that might see me stranded on a deserted island.
They followed it up with "Welcome to Mali", less local, more slickly produced, easy to love.
And now they've released "Folila," which means "music" in the Bambara language. It's got a lot of hip international names that matter to those who follow hip international musicians, and it has a lot of different colors and textures, and a big fuss is being made over it on NPR and The New York Times and other high-toned media.
I wish I loved it more.
This is not to say I don't love it a lot. I do. Especially at the beginning and the end. But in the middle are a few songs that are just ..busy. I feel awful saying this, for Amadou is the unacknowledged greatest-guitarist-on-the-planet and Mariam's voice can shatter glass --- criticizing them may suggest nothing more than that they're too good for me. In which case, I'm rather like Emperor Joseph II, in "Amadeus," telling Mozart: "Your work is ingenious. It's quality work. And there are simply too many notes, that's all. Just cut a few and it will be perfect."
Last year, Amadou and Mariam had an amazing idea --- a series of concerts performed in the dark. A genius idea, really, for they are both blind. As Amadou explained: "If you cannot see, your sense of sound becomes richer. You appreciate the qualities of sound. That's one reason I wanted to have a series of concerts in the darkness. I wanted the audiences to try to hear the music just as Mariam and I hear it."
Hear the hip international stars? I don't. Because they don't matter. The overwhelming authenticity and quality of the music of Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia overwhelm everything in their path --- including my modest resistance.
on March 1, 2013
The album is burbling, steadily swaying, driving with energy and excitement, some pop, some rock, some soul, some Latin, some African. Western and African (often sounding Asian) instruments wrangle with one another. Styles and languages hop back and forth and flow in separate layers within songs. Authentic fusion.
on September 2, 2013
Amadou & Mariam play a fusion of West African blues and a wide range of other influences. They have achieved much success and recognition with their previous work. "Folila" thus has the difficult task of following their two previous brilliant albums, "Dimanche a Bamako" and "Welcome To Mali".
"Folila" is a good album, possibly returning a little more to their blues roots than the previous two albums. It features many guest artists, and there is still a wide range of other musical influences on it. I enjoy it, but after many listens it doesn't grab me the way their previous albums did. I would thus say it's good, but not great.
The album features 13 tracks and is about 46 minutes in total. In recognition of their international audience, much of the album is in French or English, in addition to singing in a local Mali language. Helpfully, the liner notes have English translations.
I do recommend this album, and if you want to hear even better work from Amadou & Mariam, check out "Dimanche a Bamako" and "Welcome To Mali".
As an aside, if you ever get the chance to see them perform live, take it - I've had the privilege and they were awesome.
on February 5, 2013
Best track is first up; "Dougou Badia (Feat. Santigold)." Track 9, "Mogo (Feat. Bertrand Cantat)," is also a 5 star track. I also handed-out five four star ratings against the 12 tracks. The album is a in interesting blend of very American sounds led by strong guitar lacks and, as expected, strong African influences. Definitely worth a listen by the audiophile, but your average American listener isn't sophisticated or patient enough to listen to the whole album.