Djembe & Mande Music Page/Review Section
(last revision 05/13/99)

YEAR: 1998 
NUMBER: CD 5571182
"Remember when the music 
Came from wooden boxes strung with silver wire
And as we sang the words, it would set our minds on fire, 
For we believed in things, and so we'd sing."
(Harry Chapin, "Sequel" 1980)
Choosing a citation from a Harry Chapin song to start a review about Malian music doesn't seem to be the most natural thing to do. The matter of fact is that these are exactly the lines that came up my mind when I heard the first track of the CD, some weeks ago in a little recordshop in Baden, Switzerland.  I didn't knew anything about the cassetes recorded by the "blind couple from Mali", the first 
two recordings with just their voices accompanied by Amadou's guitar.

But let's first remember how the music brought these two musicians together:

Amadou and Mariam met at an association for young blind people in a not so unknown town in Mali: Bamako. It didn't took that much time, till Amadou realized that he had found his true love in Mariam. Fortunately,  for him - and all of us - Mariam felt the same way. The story is absolutely true and whoever doesn't believe it should ask Brehima, Samou or Kadiatou, the three children of Amadou and Mariam, who now living with their parents in Bamako, where it all began.

Ever since, Amadou and Mariam have travelled, worked, composed, performed together, wherever the road took them. And at the beginning of their musical career the road took them, via Burkina Faso, to Cote d'Ivoire, where they recorded five cassetes between 1989 and 1993, spreading their fame throughout West Africa and
they soon became known as "le couple aveugle du Mali" i.e. "the blind couple from Mali". 

Their recordings - with lyrics mostly in Bamana and Dogon, with  occasional songs in French -  were very successful, especially in Mali. It was only a question of time until they continued their musical adventure in England and France.

It was in Europe that they met the musicians featured on "Sou ni tilé":  a Syrian violoinist, an Indian tabla player, a Cuban trumpet player and a Columbian trombonist  next to a Egyptian Ney - a flute -. Add a harmonica, one good 'ol Fender Rhodes XB3 Hammond organ,  drumset, bass and of course, Amaou's guitar, to make the eclectic mixture complete. Here's the list of the musicians, followed by the track list of the CD.

The Musicians:
Mariam Doumbia  vocals
Amoudou Bakayoko  vocals, guitar
Stéphane San Juan  drums & percussion
Shihab M'Ghezzi  bass 
Matu  Fender Rhodes XB3 Hammond organ
Walde Baba Sissoko  tama
Andrès Viafara  trombone
Alberto Rodriguez  trombone
Barbaro Teunter Garcia  trumpet
Loic Landois  harmonica
Sameh Gatalan  violin
Johar Ali Khan  violin
Alain Hatot  traverse flute
Idwar Iskandar  ney (arabian flute)
Awa Timbo  background vocals
Sanata Doumbia  background vocals

Track list: 

             1. Je pense à toi 
             2. Combattants 
             3. Mouna 
             4. Pauvre type 
             5. Dogons 
             6. Baara 
             7. Dounia 
             8. A radio mogo 
             9. Djandjola 
            10. On se donne la main 
            11. Mon amour, ma chérie 
            12. A chacun son problème 
            13. Teree la sebin 
            14. Toubala kono 
            15. C'est la vie 

15 song for a CD is not that bad. The total is 70:48 minutes of and though the length of a CD shouldn't be a criterion, I've enjoyed every second of this one.

The accompanying 22 page booklet comes with some nice photos. What I don't like about the booklet are the white letters on a mostly gray background: it really hurts my eyes. For a positive aspect of the notes, almost all lyrics are given in Bamana/Dogon with French and English translations. All compositions are by Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia.

"Je pense à toi"
is a beautiful ballad, which begins with darabouka and violin, which are soon joined by a bluesy guitar, adding some colours to the foundation that's laid down by the bass. While Amadou sings about his love, the violin seems to confirm his words: 
     "I think of you my love, my loved one
     don't leave me alone my love, ..."

has a gorgeous intro on the blues harp; it's a song about the struggle of life.

has a nice guitar intro, supported by flute and it's the first opportunity, to hear Mariam's beautiful voice. 

"Pauvre type"
Look at this poor guy, he's tired, he's unhappy .. well, that's the kind of stuff, the blues are made from. This piece is an ecletic blend of African and Afro-Carribean elements: Nice guitar,  assisted by the tama and a real fat brass - supplied by the Cuban trombone players.

"Dogons "
A praise song for the Dogon, an ethnic group that lives around the Bandiagara plateau in Mali. The Dogon has been studied extensively by Marcel Griaul and are well-known for their Sigui festival.

"Mon amour, ma chérie "
is a love song, that appears as the opening track on Putamayo's 
"Mali to Memphis" CD, which features, in addition to Amadou and Mariam, acclaimed musicians from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean:  Rokia Traore, John Lee Hooker, Boubacar Traore, Muddy Waters, Habib Koité, Lobi Traore to name a few - quite an honorable company for our blind couple.

I could of course write on and on, to give you an impression of this beautiful and higly recommended record, but let's call it a day for now, have a look of the discography provided below and try to track down the CD's of Amadou et Mariam.

Title Year Label  
Se Te Djon Ye 1998 Sonodisc CDS 7044  
Sou ni Tilé 1998 Emarcy 557118-2  
Couple Aveugle du Mali, vol.5 1993   Cassette
Couple Aveugle du Mali, vol.4     Cassette
Couple Aveugle du Mali, vol.3 1991 Maikano MAILPS 1051 Cassette
Couple Aveugle du Mali, vol.2     Cassette
Couple Aveugle du Mali, vol.1 1989 Maikano MAILPS 1047 Cassette

Contact:    Marc Antoine 
                    Polygram Editions 
                    20, rue des Fossés St-Jacques 
                    75005 Paris 


Any feedback, comment, criticism is welcome. I'd especially appreciate any hint of how to track down Amadou et Mariam's very first accoustic recordings i.e. the cassettes.

Johannes Schya