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Amadou & Mariam at the Cedar Cultural Center, 8/7/12

Amadou & Mariam at the Cedar Cultural Center, 8/7/12
Photo by Erik Hess

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Amadou & Mariam
Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis
August 7, 2012

Some shows are just perfectly suited for the summer. Tuesday night's uplifting performance by Amadou & Mariam at the extremely sold-out Cedar Cultural Center was indeed one of those shows. The effervescent blind couple from Mali delighted the crowd with their distinct modern style of Afro-beat, delivering a 90-minute set that had both the band and the appreciative audience dancing the summer night away.

It was the last night of the Cedar's African Summer on the West Bank music series, and they sure picked a grand finale to finish with, as the celebrated Malian music duo Amadou & Mariam made their debut Minnesota appearance at the intimate club. And judging by the jubilant reactions of the fans who packed the place, everyone is hoping that they come back sometime soon.

Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia were led out on stage to rapturous applause, wearing matching lime green outfits and big smiles on their faces. Amadou quickly asked the audience (for the first of many times throughout the energetic performance), "Do you feel all right? We are really happy to be with you tonight." And Mariam chimed in with an accurate prediction, "It's going to be hot in here tonight."

Amadou & Mariam at the Cedar Cultural Center, 8/7/12
Photo by Erik Hess

And with that the duo started off the opening track, "Mogo," on their own, as their four-piece backing band (featuring a bassist, keyboardist, and two drummers) filed in behind them as the buoyant song took flight. "Batoma" featured Amadou leading the way on guitar (as he would all night), delivering smooth, bluesy licks as the band kept the pace behind him.

Amadou & Mariam's music is so joyful and positive, with everyone on stage and in the crowd smiling broadly. It's such a drastic, and welcome, change from the rather gloomy nature of most modern rock. Without being able to understand most of their lyrics, you are left letting the tone and tempo of the track inform you as to what sentiments lie at the heart of the song. And without having to concentrate on the words, you can fully give yourself up to the upbeat rhythms and melodies that the band is creating, free-spiritedly moving in time to the beat.

Amadou & Mariam at the Cedar Cultural Center, 8/7/12
Photo by Erik Hess

While Mariam comes across as the cool Godmother of Malian soul, Amadou absolutely shreds on his stylish gold guitar throughout the performance, with the talented band consistently deferring to him while he sets the frantic pace of the song with his deft guitar work. "Africa Mon Afrique," "Masiteladi," and "Wily Kataso" (which, on their new record Folila, features Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone from TV on the Radio) all soared, with Amadou's riffs lighting the fire while the dual-percussionists set the tempo along with the smooth low tones from the lively bassist. Mariam even flashed what metal-heads typically refer to as devil-horns while her partner soloed away dynamically during "Masiteladi," obviously enjoying Amadou's work as much as everyone in the crowd.

"Kobena" featured one of the percussionists tearing it up on the djembe, giving the song a spirited pulse that really got the crowd dancing. After a sultry, bluesy take on "La Realite," Mariam took over for a rousing run through of "C'est Pas Facile," which wisely did away with the street-pop influence of Ebony Bones featured on the recorded version to focus instead on Doumbia's indomitable vivacity. The breezy, island rhythm and riffs of "Facile" washed benevolently over the crowd, as everyone on stage looked like they were having the time of their lives, a merry, carefree mood which easily transferred to the audience.

 

Amadou & Mariam at the Cedar Cultural Center, 8/7/12
Photo by Erik Hess

Amadou led the way on the moody main set closer, "Beaux Dimanches," which featured an insanely catchy guitar riff as well as plenty of modern flourishes from the band which only augmented the smooth melody. And after a short break, the band returned with the keyboardist taking a seat at the Cedar's old piano, giving a classic, timeless feel to "Chérie," which warmly kicked off the encore. Mariam showed Amadou some tender affection during the love-lorn track, and he returned the favor on "Mon Amour, Ma Chérie," with the two of them sharing a bit of a dance towards the end of the track before Amadou spiritedly guided the song home with another brilliant guitar solo.

The band closed out the show with "Sebeke," which featured a distinct Blur-like guitar riff that Amadou might have picked up while working with Damon Albarn over the years. It was a triumphant, animated conclusion to the performance, and the crowd's enormous ovation and reluctance to leave just proved that no one wanted the night to come to an end. Amadou & Mariam brought a vibrant slice of African summer to Minneapolis, and everyone who was lucky enough to be there won't forget it anytime soon.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: I've only casually listened to Amadou & Mariam's music over the last few years, enjoying what I've heard but never digging any deeper into their sound or story. Now I'm a full-on fan for life.

The Crowd: As packed as I've seen the Cedar as of late, as it rightly should have been for the first Minnesota appearance of Amadou & Mariam.

Overheard In The Crowd: "They are so cute...and they are so good!"

Random Notebook Dump: Special mention must be given to regular Gimme Noise contributor Danny Sigelman (DJ Paper Sleeves), who provided plenty of smooth grooves before the set. Many of them were choice nuggets from the local label, Secret Stash Records, who continue to put out fantastic records that shine a light on unheard or underappreciated music from across the globe. His set even got me dancing a bit before the show even started.

Setlist:

Mogo

Batoma

Oh Amadou

Wari

Africa Mon Afrique

La Bandela

Masiteladi

Wily Kataso

Kobena

Dogon

La Realite

C'est Pas Facile

Beaux Dimanches

Chérie (Encore)

Mon Amour, Ma Chérie (Encore)

Sebeke (Encore)


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