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 Nov. 18, 2014
Take it for what its worth, but Playboy Magazine has Blue's Egg as one of its 101 best breakfasts in America (don't worry, the link is reasonably safe for work). The restaurant at 317 N. 76th St. came in 21st place out of 23 Midwest selections, just behind Mickie's Dairy Bar in Madison.
Published Nov. 11, 2014
Can you imagine how social media would've melted down exactly 101 years ago? Nov. 11, 2013 was the end of the "Big Blow," the "Freshwater Fury" or the "White Hurricane," a hurricane-force blizzard that killed more than 250 people and and destroyed 19 ships.
Published Oct. 28, 2014
I really didn't have any hope left after 25 days. As we entered the fourth week without our sweet, kind, missing cat, Jabie, I was beginning to come to peace with the reality that I'd never see her again. Then, yesterday, less than four blocks from home, a woman called my wife and said she had cajoled a black cat into her basement. My wife bolted home from work and immediately recognized Jabie coming up the stairs. Just to be sure, she took her to the closest vet to scan her microchip. And it came back as a match from Elmbrook Humane Society.
Published Oct. 22, 2014
Apple's new killer app, Apple Pay, may indeed someday change global commerce for good. That day isn't here yet, however. Three days after launch, my experiences with the NFC-based payment / tap to pay system show that Apple Pay is still very, very beta. At this point, you may find yourself using it barely at all.
Published Oct. 21, 2014
Mazen Muna, the owner of the Dogg Haus group of restaurants, shared his plans today to launch PhantomBar this spring at 780 N. Jefferson St. in Cathedral Square. The bar is under the umbrella of his new 12AM Management Group, which Muna says he founded to house "the new wave of businesses being added to the portfolio."
Published Oct. 16, 2014
Well before the Chinese eCommerce company Alibaba began making IPO rumblings in America, I was familiar with its offerings. I'd never bought anything from it ... until this month.
Published Oct. 8, 2014
Once upon a time, I figured that the magnificent, serene and beautiful Door County is a place only to be enjoyed by adults. Maybe my priorities have changed, though, because even after 20 years of visits, only recently did I come to the conclusion that kids could fall in love with this magical retreat, too. Turns out I was right. After the summer rush died down, we took our daughter up to Door County for the first time this weekend. It was a wonderful journey.
Published Oct. 7, 2014
Just about a week ago, our sweet little cat, Jabie, disappeared from our Bay View home. Maybe one of us left the patio door open a bit, I'm not sure. But after hours upon hours of walking the neighborhood, taping up posters and talking to every stranger we see, she's still nowhere to be found.
Published Sept. 27, 2014
I've been lucky enough to see the Dandy Warhols live several times over the last few years. But each time, I've had to travel to Chicago or Madison to hear them, which is a small sacrifice for one of my favorite bands over the last 15-plus years. So the opportunity to see the Dandys at Turner Hall was a welcome one, and as usual, provided for a great venue to see the Portland-based band Saturday night.
Published Sept. 23, 2014
Sunday morning, we headed to Mequon to pick apples, although not to Barthel's. On a friend's tip, we visit R-Apples (Roesch Farm), right next door at 12422 Farmdale Rd. What a wonderful, low-key experience. Not only was it peaceful and quiet, we picked apples and pears of many different varieties. Then we headed to their vegetable garden, and picked peppers and raspberries.