Review of Amadou and Mariam's album 'Welcome To Mali'.
Like many people, my first - and only - youthful exposure to music from Africa was through Radio 1's much loved late night maverick John Peel. It's no exaggeration to say that the Liverpudlian's penchant for mischievously sequencing grindcore into Hugh Masekela or Fema Kuti introduced me and a whole generation of listeners to a prosaically different world.
Amadou and Mariam have the sort of quixotic background of many artists from the continent, the majority of whom it seems have to fight adversities beyond our imagination. They met at a school for the blind in Mali more than thirty years ago (Mariam was the pupil, Amadou the teacher), married in 1980 and more recently followed up recording the offical theme song to the 2006 world cup by last month playing at Barrack Obama's inauguration.
The duo are also part of Afrophile Damon Albarn's Africa Exprez collective, and the frontman of - well, you know - provided "creative and technical" input into lead single Sabali, a track which fizzes with virtuoso western synth pop swatches and Mariam's high pitched, almost child like vocals.
With half a million copies of Welcome To Mali's 2005 Manu Chao produced predecessor Dimanche a Bamako sold in France there's plenty of freedom for experimentation, and Djama grooves with an infusion of roots reggae off-beats and antique keyboards whilst Masiteladi is what it is - pure rock and roll.
In fact the most difficult thing about listening to Welcome To Mali is in abandoning preconceived notions about what music from Africa should sound like; Somalian K'naan collaborates on the soulful Africa, whilst the title track hums with clavinet and a seventies funk vibe. It's a willingness to mix influences from across the globe that has brought criticism for countryman Isaa Bagayogo, but for Amadou and Mariam the world it seems is now their oyster.