Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia first came together in 1977. Both are blind and they met at the Institute for the Young Blind in Bamako, the capital of Mali, where Amadou and Mariam were part of the Institute's Eclipse Orchestra.
By that time Amadou had already cut his teeth as a teenage guitarist in the Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako, one of West Africa's hottest bands during the Seventies. Mariam, meanwhile, had grown up listening to such admired Malian singers as Sira Mory Diabaté, Fanta Damba and Mokontafé Sako on her family's radio while also singing at weddings and in the myriad traditional festivals that are a constant feature of everyday life in Mali.
Amadou and Mariam quickly became a couple, a relationship that eventually grew to include their musical careers. Their first official concert together came in 1980. The duo, however, was constantly frustrated by the lack of professional opportunities in Mali and in the late-Eighties they moved to Abidjan, the capital of neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire.
It was in Abidjan that Amadou & Mariam first came to serious attention. In the five years from 1988 to 1993 they recorded a series of Afro-pop cassettes that brought them fame right across West Africa.
Perhaps ironically, the prevalence of pirated cassettes in the region only served to increase demand for the music of Amadou & Mariam. They were certainly famous and recognised far beyond their native Mali, their music spilling over in a rich spectrum of textures and influences, from African pop to electric blues, reggae and Cuban son.
In common with many artists from French West Africa, Amadou & Mariam also found a European home in Paris. From 1998 they toured heavily throughout France, at the same time releasing three major label albums that enhanced the couple's reputations throughout the world.
On one of those albums, 'Sou Ni Tilé', there is a track called 'Je T'Aime Mon Amour, Ma Chérie', a popular song that hugely impressed Manu Chao, the legendary artist whose classic 1998 'Clandestino' album had proved to be a landmark of Latin music.
Chao heard the tune as he was speeding around the Parisian ring road. "I fell in love with that song and its melody," he says. "For a year I played their records round the clock. What I liked most about them was this African blues-rock they play and the overwhelming softness they project." A short meeting in a Paris studio with Amadou & Mariam quickly became something much more substantial as Chao agreed to produce their next album.
The result was Dimanche à Bamako, which also features Chao joining Amadou & Mariam in front of the microphone on many of the songs. The album was recorded in both Paris and Bamako with a stellar list of musicians, including the couple's friend of 30 years, the famed keyboard player Check Tidiane Seck and Tiken Jah Fakoly, the reggae singer from Côte d'Ivoire.
The album was released in France at the start of November 2004. Six months later 'Dimanche à Bamako' had become one of the most celebrated African albums in a generation; an album that has transcended simple genres and reached across many audiences. 'Dimanche à Bamako' was released in the UK this past summer to great critical acclaim, garnering a MOBO nomination in the World category.
'Dimanche à Bamako', now a platinum album in France, has been an extraordinary success around Europe, with the single, 'Senegal Fast Food' charting at number 2 in France. Amadou and Mariam's success has not gone unnoticed in the USA either, and received a Grammy nomination in December 2005 for best World album.