It’s possible you’ve never heard of Amadou and Mariam, but this was a Summerfest show I circled as soon as it was announced.
I first heard of the blind musical duo from Africa when their 2008 record "Welcome to Mali" was profiled on NPR. They piqued my interest when I found out that Manu Chao produced that album, and I bought it right away when I heard a few snippets of their Afro-blues, world beat, guitar-inspired music. A few songs have even made it onto my running mix.
Visiting Summerfest Thursday night, you could tell that some of the people in the very small crowd at the Johnson Controls World Sound Stage knew that this talented couple has ties to Stevie Wonder, U2, Santigold and the Scissor Sisters. Maybe some of the crowd didn’t, and the music just won them over.
Either way, what a smokin’ show on a hot and humid second night of Summerfest. Because Amadou and Mariam sing primarily in Bambara (the official language of Mali), French, plus a bit of English and Spanish thrown in, I won’t even try to provide you with a set list. While "Welcome To Mali" is extremely catchy, I have no idea what they’re singing about, so I just mouthed along phonetically to the songs I knew and danced to the songs I didn’t.
What matters to me is how this group sounded. The answer? Amazing. Clad in orange and white dashikis, just six people on stage made great modern African music. Funky, beautiful and sometimes downright rocking, we ate it up.
With Amadou Bagayoko on guitar and vocals, and Mariam Doumbia singing beautiful, high-pitched melodies, this husband and wife team made infectious, funky, unique and sometimes stripped down jams that just didn’t require any translation.
And Amadou effortlessly cooked on guitar. "Are you feeling all right?" he asked us when he came out. Yes! For 90 minutes!
Layered but simultaneously sparse, the group's vocals aren't so much harmonized but sung at the same pitch. It sounds, well, African. But the funky clavinette and disco octaves on the bass (and musicians in matching colorful pantsuits) sometimes sounded like '70s American funk. It’s a little hard to explain if you haven’t heard it before.
Extended guitar solos and jams, costume changes for Mariam and a super-enthused intimate dancing crowd, this show will stick in my memory for a long time. Unfortunately, there was no encore, and they didn't play my favorite song from "Welcome To Mali." But c'est la vie.
I always thought I liked African music, but seeing it live – whether it’s Paul Simon’s band or Amadou and Mariam – proved it. And this duo is a unique, brightly-colored, super-good group. If you haven’t heard of them by now, believe me, you will soon enough.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Andy Tarnoff
Published April 6, 2015
Something weird happened to me around the beginning August last year: I started wanting the Brewers season to be over.
Published April 3, 2015
Here are seven recent Brewers pitchers that I would love to get back. Even if these weren't necessarily the best players, they each brought something special to the crew.
Published April 2, 2015
In a time when Zappos and Amazon and brick-and-mortar sporting good chains have cemented their spot as go-to places for running shoes and apparel, you might not think that starting a local running store would be a sound business idea. Don't tell that to Jessica and Trae Hoepner, the owners of Performance Running Outfitters, a business that started with one humble store and expanded to three, with a fourth in the works.
Published March 19, 2015
My 18th annual Brewers Spring Training trip is now complete, and I'm back in chilly Milwaukee, which actually feels a little better after a few days under the beating hot sun of the desert. This trip was a good one. A really good one. New experiences, old friends and lots and lots of baseball. But you probably know about all that if you read my blog entries this week.
Published March 18, 2015
When I left off yesterday, I was feeling tan, rested and ready for baseball, and we made the 30-minute drive from Talking Stick Resort to Peoria Stadium a little before noon. Brewers fans were out in force for the game against the Padres. St. Patty's Day revelry was in full effect.
Published March 17, 2015
I've said this before, but sometimes Spring Training feels a lot like the movie "Groundhog Day." Events, games and trips tend to run together, because with only a few variations, you're basically doing the same thing every day (and of course, that's a very good thing). But yesterday, we did something that we've only done one other time in 18 years: we didn't go to a Brewers game.
Published March 16, 2015
When you've been awake for 24 consecutive hours, due to an early flight, a time change and the excitement of an 18th consecutive Spring Training trip to Arizona, it's understandable to make a few bad decisions. Fortunately, the only one I regret is that humungous carne asada burrito from Filiberto's at 2 a.m. Mountain Standard Time, before collapsing into a few hours of sleep at the Talking Stick Resort here in Scottsdale.
Published March 10, 2015
Every year - since 1998 - I've made the trip to Arizona to watch the Brewers get ready for a long, long season of baseball. It's my favorite work/fun trip (edging out even Las Vegas) that I get to take, but with all the fun and sun in the desert, it's surprisingly easy to forget to pay attention to the baseball on the field.
Published March 9, 2015
Mequon native Tom Wachs knew he wanted to be a meteorologist a young age. After working in several smaller markets, he returned to his home last year, and even in a tough, demanding job, he's loving every minute of it. We caught up with Wachs to talk tornados, technology, and what it was like to dress up as a clown at his last job.
Published March 4, 2015
When Brewers fans talk to me about Spring Training, I always see the same look in their eyes. "I've always wanted to do that," they say wistfully, like Arizona exists in some far-away land, where you sit right next to the field and talk to the players in between in innings. Well, actually, most of that's true. Except for the far-away land part.