Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Amadou & Mariam: Welcome to Mali [Nonesuch, 2009]
For a decade before the now-departed Manu Chao took them on in 2005, these sincerely opportunistic pros, a couple since the mid '70s and an act for almost as long, were extending their musical outreach with manager Marc Antoine Moreau, who oversaw this follow-up CD as he did all those before Dimanche à Bamako. Right, Damon Albarn is on a few tracks--the guy who was in that group Mali Music, you remember, though the "Sabali" weirdness that has Alternia all atwitter isn't their kind of thing. Recorded mostly in Paris, with details from synth partner Laurent Jaïs, this is Moreau's record, which only Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia could have made. Though rarely duplicated, their secret is easy enough to put into words. Unlike Brenda Fassie, Angélique Kidjo, middle-period Baaba Maal, Ray Lema, anyone remember Touré Kunda, whoever, Amadou & Mariam sop up Western music without turning to mush. For them, it's not about stylistic aspiration. They want the sounds, not the music per se or its cultural accoutrements. If those sounds are a hodgepodge by Euro-American standards--harmonica and syndrums, rock guitar and soul horns--that just makes them more Malian. Politically these folks are not sophisticated but they're also not unconscious--you can't be apolitical in a nation forever at risk of tyranny, and their blindness taught them transcendence. Splitting the difference between shamelessly guileless, openhearted melodically and spirited rhythmically, this is their celebration of their ability to celebrate. A