Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia are the Grammy Award-nominated musical duo that make up the musical force that is AMADOU AND MARIAM. Affectionately known as “the blind couple from Mali”, the duo spent 20 years establishing their reputation in Mali and other neighbouring West African countries before eventually winning international acclaim with their ground-breaking and genreless mix of Malian music.
Drawing inspiration from far and wide, the pair mix traditional Mali sound with electric guitars and various world instruments such as Syrian violins, Cuban trumpets, Egyptian ney and Indian tablas to result in a unique sound that they refer to as ‘Afro-blues’. Garnering attention from early on in their career, the pair have racked up an impressive count of guest appearances, collaborations and joint productions from the likes of Manu Chao, Beth Orton and Damon Albarn to TV On The Radio and Santigold.
The pair both lost their eyesight at a young age, at a time in Mali when blindness was considered an enormous handicap. Yet through their love of music the duo overcame their obstacles, donned their trademark sunglasses and embroidered Malian dress and became a musical force to be reckoned with. Their 2008 autobiography, Away From The Light Of Day, further highlighted the inspiring artistic path that the couple took, in light of the many obstacles they had to face, and shows the broader social change that they have effected. Ultimately, their story is one of determination, courage and absolute devotion to music.
Amadou and Mariam are set to make their first appearance in Liverpool this December as part of DaDaFest – an innovative arts festival that produces opportunities for disabled and deaf people to access the arts. The show will be a highlight of a fantastic programme put together by the festival, running from 17th November to the Philharmonic Hall show on 3rd December. On that night, Amadou and Mariam will be joined by a sterling support bill including selectors adept in music from all corners of the world, Radio Exotica DJs, plus Somalian guitar maverick Anwar Ali. Ali, whose idiosyncratic style takes in influences as diverse as Swahili wedding songs and Norwegian folk, will be joined by Liverpudlian musician Dave Owen. Completing the line-up is the Evolve Group from the Young DaDa Ensemble, who will perform original songs from their trailblazing project.
In advance of their performance, Scott Smith caught up with Amadou and Mariam to find out their influences growing up, how they coped with their disabilities and their experiences in the music industry.
Bido Lito!: Where did the story of Amadou and Mariam all begin, and when did you start playing together?
Amadou and Mariam: Our history started in a meeting at the Institute for Blind Children in [Malian capital city] Bamako in 1975, one year after we started playing together, and our first gig was back in January 1976.
BL!: You’re playing Liverpool as part of DaDaFest; how important is the issue of disability to you as performers and how do you find British audiences?
A&M: It’s super important for us because disabled and deaf people should have their own place and importance in our society. We are happy that DaDaFest give this opportunity and place in arts and music to join audiences together. [When] we were young we lived [with] some discrimination. But after some years when we became musicians we started to receive the affection and admiration from the audience. We are lucky to have played in so many different countries. British audience[s are] very warm and welcome; they enjoy music and they know a lot about different genres and styles.
BL!: During your recording career you have collaborated with a variety of musicians from around the world; how have these experiences affected your songwriting?
A&M: When we were young we used to listen [to] a lot of American music, and also some British groups. We like a lot of different styles from rock, blues, rap, but also some French chanson and the Afro-Cuban sounds. One of the very nice parts of collaborations [is that] it gives us the opportunity to mix some sounds and styles, to learn and create, always keeping our African sound.
BL!: You’ve achieved so much in your career, but you didn’t have the easiest start. Where did you find the determination and courage to dedicate yourself to music?
A&M: Our start was not that easy because a proper music industry did not exist in Mali at that time nor music producer and distributor, so we were forced to move to Cote D’Ivoire. We were super determined to share our music around the world. We were – and still are – confident about our sound and music, that’s why we did this big step. We are grateful to do what we love and that is to play music. Also, we received a lot of nominations, recognitions and awards around the world that give us energy to keep playing.
BL!: What advice do you have for any young blind, deaf or disabled aspiring artists trying to make it in the music world?
A&M: They should be strong and have patience. To be strong enough to feel that they are on the same level and [have the same] rights as all other human beings.
BL!: We are looking forward to your performance in Liverpool.
A&M: Thank you so much for your time and interview. We too look forward to seeing you all at the DaDaFest!
Amadou and Mariam play Liverpool Philharmonic Hall as part of DaDaFest 2016 on Saturday 3rd December.