It was a fine night at New York's Town Hall on May 2 when the World Music Institute presented the Blind Boys of Alabama on stage and in collaboration with Amadou and Mariam of Mali. This rare pairing has been on hold throughout the pandemic and is now finally making its way to American stages.
The two acts share a great deal, blindness, rock 'n' roll DNA, long years on the stage and well-worn stage patter. They are also becoming rather aged, particularly the Blind Boys. The three who were able to make this tour mostly sat in their shiny grey suits, rising for solos and wielding microphones like scepters as they urged the audience to dance, sing and generally feel the spirit.
What they do not share is religion: No mystery where the Blind Boys are coming from, but it would be too simple to limit Amadou and Mariam to Islam. There are suggestions of older African faiths in their presentation, particularly a song from the pre-Islamic Dogon peoples' tradition.
The two groups performed separately and together, sharing a rhythm section that included Sam Dickey on bass. (Sam plays guitar with Fatoumata Diawara's U.S. touring band.) When the singers joined voices, it was magic. And even when the two acts played familiar hits, like Amadou & Mariam's "Je Pense A Toi" and "Welcome to Mali," or the Blind Boys setting "Amazing Grace" to the tune of "House of the Rising Sun," the synergistic vibe was infectious. And they nicely addressed the religious issue with a song that transcends faith, trumpeting the need to keep the devil "Down in the Hole."
Here is a set of my photos from an extraordinary evening. If you have the chance to catch this act, don't miss it