Je Pense A Toi - The Best of Amadou et Mariam

SSC7019 2005-10-25

Track List

Je Pense A Toi - 05:15
Les Temps Ont Changé - 04:45
Nangaraba - 04:29
Chantez-Chantez - 04:36
Mouna - 04:41
A Radio Mogo - 04:48
Toubala Kono - 05:20
Mali Denou - 04:30
DJagnèba - 05:19
Fantani - 03:43
Ko Bé Na Touma Do - 04:24
Pauvre Type - 04:35
Walide - 05:07


Amadou Bagayoko - vocals and lead guitar
Mariam Doumbia - vocals
Stéphane San Juan - drums and percussion
Sameh Catalan - violin
Jean-Philippe Rykiel - keyboards
Laurent Griffon - bass
Boubacar Dembélé - djembe, calebasse
Matu - fender rhodes, hammond organ, wurlitzer and piano
Andrès Viafara - trombones
Shihab M’Gehzzi Bekhouche - bass
Alain Hatot - tranverse flute
Moriba Koïta - n’goni
Valentin Clastrier - vielle
Cedric Lesouquet - doublebass
Mamani Keïta, Awa Timbo, Sanata Doumbia, Ousmane Dicko, Ayélé Labitey, Sonia Sala - background vocals

The recent history of west-African music has been written on recycled paper, with a pen dipped in the ink of resourcefulness. The various episodes studding the biographies of the region’s great orchestras, the Bembaya Jazz, the Ambassadeurs du Motel or the Rail Band de Bamako, could easily provide the inspiration for a sitcom mingling animism and the burlesque, a show where the leading roles are played not by artists, but rather by shady managers, venal witch doctors and expert pirates.

In this hazardous context, the itinerary of Amadou and Mariam stands out like so much no-fuss heroism… Take the first hurdle in their long obstacle course for example: after they first met at the end of the Sixties (at the Mali Institute for the Young & Blind), they had to overcome the opposition of their parents, who deemed their prospective union to be unreasonable. The couple was alone in thinking it obvious that a marriage between blind people could be a success.

During those days of military dictatorship (under Modibo
Keita), the best musicians were hired by the house bands working in hotels. Earning on average the same as a minor civil-servant, these musicians played at dinner-dances for a clientele essentially made up of cabinet-members and wealthy foreign visitors, churning out current pop hits declined with an assortment of Cuban dance-rhythms. It was with one of these bands, The Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako, that Amadou Bagayoko honed his skills as a guitarist. He refined his technique during his spell with the orchestra, bringing sparkle to his fluid playing. In particular, the period particularly allowed him to cultivate a sense of versatility – the contrary of dissipation – that paved the way for the emergence of the radiant, Bambara blues that came to full bloom in their recent productions.

As for Mariam Doumbia, she sang on her own, most often accompanied by her husband, and when the couple finally decided to share their career, well, the chances of success in Mali were undeniable… and so they emigrated to the Ivory Coast. It was there that success took them by surprise. With their three children far away, they went into the studio in Abidjan and produced a series of cassettes that would carry their two names throughout West Africa.

Defining their music amounts to rewriting the history of the region at the dawn of its Independence; for the former A.O.F. countries (French West Africa), including Mali, Independence meant stating one’s identity without turning one’s back on the modernity that the colonists had incarnated up until then. And so it was that Amadou & Mariam seemed to hear their music, that of the Mandingo tradition, through the filter that had caused them to marvel when they were adolescents: Anglo-Saxon pop music, electric blues, reggae, Cuban rumbas and French pop… Through inspiration (much) more than through reflection, they began to cook up those different
ingredients at home until they obtained something tasty, varied and personal. This language that was their own would lead them to travel seamlessly through their proper universe to the various horizons that had nourished their dreams. In addition, this musical opening, this sense of hospitality one might say, would reload their African heritage with vital energy at the same time as it confirmed its role as the nourishing earth that founded its identity.

Produced in France, the three albums summarized by this compilation (Sou Ni Tilé in 98, Tje Ni Mousso in 99 and Wati in 2002) could well provide the term “world music” with its definition: as one of their songs says, “The world is no eternal
dwelling place, it’s a parlour for chatting.” In other words, it’s a space open to all, and to any and all subjects. Many songs included here refer to the tradition of never-ending discussions that is so essential to Africa. Les Temps Ont Changé, for example, expresses regret for bygone days when men would meet under a tree to discuss the problems of their townships: everyday problems faced by men and women (echoed by Pauvre Type, Fantani or Djagnéba), tales of debts and solitude, and other difficulties that were 24/7. The songs of Amadou & Mariam, coming at a time when traditional society in Mali was undergoing a profound rethink, outlined their desire to substitute themselves for these village gatherings. Not through any sudden moralizing outburst but, on the contrary, through the effect of a survival reflex, as if they were steered by a deep desire to avoid indifference contaminating these rapports (as was commonplace in industrialized nations). It would explain how their simple, insanely naïve way of singing about love
(in Je Pense à Toi) owes as much to the deeply-rooted sentiments they feel for each other as it does to that extremely keen awareness of interdependency which, in Africa more than anywhere else, ties each to one’s neighbour. If their music has the freshness of a spring, their words, on the other hand, never tire of distilling counsel and recommendations; this manner of keeping an eye open for trouble, of preaching respect, patience and tolerance, finally unfurls all little local virtues to become universal wisdom. With their preserved candor, Amadou and Mariam speak to us of harmony’s superiority over discord. Guided by the eyes of their hearts, they succeed in returning sight to those who thought they could already see.
Francis Dordor


Amadou and Mariam have came upon a winning formula for blending the Bambara music of their ancestors with raw, rootsy rock Y roll.Amadou said, "We are more or less the first artists in Mali music to create a style that is both blues and rock, and Malian at the same time.
Bridging palpable brashness and irresistible warmth, the Malian couple has a sound like nothing else in African pop.
Banning Eyre, Global Rhythms, December 2005
read the full article