Michael Buckner | Frazer Harrison, Getty Images Now this is a collaboration that…
- Posted on Mar 10th 2009 12:00PM by Steve Hochman
That's Amadou Bagayoko anchoring La Bande Original, an ad hoc ensemble featured last summer at the Eurockeenes festival in France, at which he also performed in his regular gig with his wife, Mariam Doumbia. And yes, that's a rather rocking version of AC/DC's 'Whole Lotta Rosie,' featuring French dynamo Olivia Ruiz on vocals.
"We had this crazy idea to do some covers," Amadou says about the band, which also featured singer Camille and various other French musicians. "We did our own songs and some of the girls', as well as Stevie Wonder and AC/DC."
Well, this shouldn't surprise anyone who has followed the rise of the couple in recent years from obscurity to international sensations. There was always a broad rock and pop consciousness in even their most straightforward music, and with 2005's 'Dimanche a Bamako' they balanced along eclectic rock edges with producer/collaborator Manu Chao.
The new 'Welcome to Mali' (due for U.S. release March 24 from Nonesuch Records) largely returns them to their longtime producers Marc Antoine Moreau (who also served as translator for the interview) and Laurent Jais -- and, to great effect, losing the forced aspects of the Chao session but retaining the scope. An experimental sense is heightened by having Blur's Damon Albarn on board as producer of the opening 'Sabali,' a seductive electronic setting for Mariam's North African melisma.
Amadou & Mariam, 'Sabali'
Albarn also guests on the second track, 'Ce N'est Pas Bon,' and Somalia-born/Toronto-based rapper-singer (and recent Around the World visitor) K'Naan is on 'Africa.' But despite a range of approaches, this music always retains a sort of Malian-ness, underscored by the presence on the song 'Djuru' of another guest, kora master Toumani Diabate, and on 'Djara' that of a chorus of students from the Mali Institute for the Young Blind, which is where the couple first met and started performing together in the '70s.
As wide as the duo's reach has been, the extent of Amadou & Mariam's affection for Western rock and pop still seems a bit of a surprise. In fact, asked to name five artists or albums that could best serve as clues to understanding the Amadou & Mariam sensibilities for the latest installment of Around the World's occasional Source Outing feature, Amadou settled on three American musicians, an Australian band and just one African (not even from Mali). And the fellow African was the last one he mentioned:
Steve Wonder: '"Superstition,' we really like that song. He's really been an inspiration. It's the way he sings, mainly. Can really feel very good sentiments in the way he sings. That is something Amadou & Mariam-like in him, something we like to reflect in our own music."
AC/DC: "It's really about the rhythm, the rock rhythm and guitar style. 'Whole Lotta Rosie'! I've been playing AC/DC for a long time in Mali. And now fortunate to set up the project with the artists in France and doing covers of AC/DC. Yes, yes!"
John Lee Hooker: Amadou hums a line -- instantly recognizable as the melody of 'Baby Please Don't Go.' "It reminds me a lot of Malian music, and it also inspires me." The first time he heard it? "It was in the '70s, first time. We used to have a vinyl record of it."
Jimi Hendrix: Amadou hums another line, a familiar guitar riff that shares some basic properties with both the 'Whole Lotta Rosie' and 'Baby Please Don't Go' licks -- and with the signature Malian guitar associated with the late Ali Farka Toure and more recently such electrified Touareg nomads as Tinariwen. "Can't remember the name of the song," he says, humming the lick again. Ah, it's 'Power of Soul,' as heard on the 'Band of Gypsys' album. But he also cites 'Hey Joe,' from the Jimi Hendrix Experience's 1967 debut, 'Are You Experienced?'
"Been listening to Jimi Hendrix since a little before John Lee Hooker and was very interested in the guitar playing. It really pushed me to do my own guitar."
Fela Anikulapo Kuti: From the massive catalog of the late Nigerian Afrobeat king, Amadou selects one track. "The song 'Gentleman' -- I really like this. This could be the one. This song has a strong link with Amadou & Mariam music -- it's got the beat on it." (Listen to it here.)
The list of key influences expands when he discusses artists with whom he'd love a chance to collaborate: "Stevie Wonder, for sure," he says. "That would be the kind of evolution we would really appreciate. David Gilmour from Pink Floyd; we'd love to collaborate with him on something. Robert Plant, too. All these are people that we admire a lot."
All great stuff but all seemingly at odds with the title and, presumably, the theme of the new album. 'Welcome to Mali' -- and now here's some AC/DC and Hendrix?
"Yeah, it's an invitation as to all the sort of music we have got in Mali," Amadou says. "And it's true that Mali has become more and more open to other music."
But at the same time, their own sensibilities have made the rest of the world more and more open to them -- and, to their thinking, more open to Mali.
"Malian people are very proud of what has happened with us," he says. "And they are very pleased for themselves. Seems that the Malian people see in us the possibility to introduce anyone to Malian music. People can get into our music because they can hear the rock in it, the pop in it. It links the music to that audience. This music has rock and blues and pop influence. People can find things they know in it. Maybe that why it touches them. What touches people from America and Europe is the message we are trying to send -- the message of love, of peace, of solidarity. It's a simple way to say it, but it's important to spread that kind of message."
And it's not something they feel a need to tailor specially for the Coldplay crowds.
"In the audience, some people won't know us or even African music," he says. "But there's no reason to change anything. We are happy with what we do and this is how people need to get us. We like to be loved as we are, for what we are."