Reviews March 28, 2012

You know the story about Amadou and Miriam: Super-talented blind couple makes music for years in Mali and Côte d’Ivoire. Looking for opportunity, they move to Paris, where they find success first in France, and then gradually throughout the world. You will also probably feel like you know their latest album, Folila, which proves to be not all that different from much of their earlier music. That means if you like Amadou and Mariam’s other work, then you will almost certainly like this. This lack of change isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it certainly isn’t new either. A quick trip to the duo’s catalogue reveals that the basic elements of their sound were essentially set as far back as the early '90s. The call-and-response vocals are there along with a gentle but insistent forward pulse and an interlocking band tethered by Amadou’s looping guitar lines. This is all in the service of a sound that’s frequently been called “African blues,” conjuring aspects of the Delta’s melancholy without the tension and release structure that forms the emotional backbone of the American-born blues.

Since then, the group’s story has mostly been about the elements added to that sound. Their U.S. breakthrough, 2004’s Dimanche á Bamako, added increased studio gloss thanks to production by Manu Chao (who knows a thing or two about breaking into an international audience), as well as a fantastic set of songs. 2008’s Welcome to Mali saw them work with a host of collaborators, as well as taking on more western texture, with synths amply present over some of the album.

Their newest effort, Folila, is more of a return to the vibe of Bamako. While none of its tracks have the strength of that record’s best songs, it does away with the sometimes distracting flourishes found on Welcome to Mali. The only real exception to this is the cameo by Tunde and Kyp from TV on the Radio on “Wily Kataso,” which manages to sound more like one of TV on the Radio’s own songs. Aside from that, although the album features collaborators on almost every track, they really make very little difference to the duo’s endlessly adaptable sound, simply adding on another layer to the unchanging core. As a result Folila sounds great and goes down smooth, creating the warmly hypnotic glow that has always enveloped their music. What more can you ask for?

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