Amadou Bagayoko speaks in big, up-and-down swells of African-French that swoop out almost musically. It’s as though someone took an already beautiful voice and trapped it in a prism, to be splintered out as a vocal chorus. He and his wife/bandmate Mariam Doumbia, the other half of African-pop duo Amadou & Mariam, granted a French-language phone interview (translated here) to Vita.mn ahead of their show Friday at the Cedar.
On how they met
“It was at the Institute for the Young Blind in Bamako [in Mali in 1975],” said Amadou, who lost his sight as a teenager (Mariam lost hers at age 5). “Before the institute, I already had a song that played on the radio. And since Mariam was a singer and had sung since she was little, we became friends right away.”
Amadou’s a charismatic speaker, who states things so clearly you wonder why you ever had the question to begin with. There’s a beautiful practicality to his answers, too. When asked about the duo’s songwriting process he states that, “We each write our songs side-by-side, separately. Mariam makes her songs and I make mine, and afterward we meet and play together. That’s it.”
That’s it, finito, nothing else to it. Take note, aspiring songwriters: That’s how you write critically lauded, Grammy-nominated music. Asked about his love-letter-like quality to his songwriting, he’s matter-of-fact in his romanticism.
“It started in Mali, because we were together and we were interested in writing and singing love songs. It continued because love songs interest everyone, like if you love someone but you don’t have the courage to say it.”
On the road
Now in their late 50s, the Malian duo is in the midst of an extensive international tour, chock full of rock venues and festival dates. After more than 30 years of marriage and performing together, Amadou & Mariam don’t seem ready to slow down. Touring is a great way to meet collaborators, Amadou said, from British Blur/Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn to Somali-Canadian rapper K’naan.
“It’s the people that we meet in the festivals or at shows that we ask to be on the album. Not because they’re famous — because they’re good. We ask if they like the music we make and if they do, we ask if they’d like to sing on the album.”
Amadou & Mariam have always favored a collaborative approach. Last year’s album, “Folila,” their sixth, featured indie stars Santigold, TV on the Radio and a host of Malian heavyweights.
“Music is universal,” Amadou said, calling language barriers a non-issue. “If you don’t speak the language you still understand what musicians are doing. For example, on the track with Santigold [“Dougou Badia”], we explained that in the song, we’re here to bring joy and celebrate, to dance and sing together. As far as a message, that’s all.”
Amadou is as unfazed by the language barrier as it applies to the audience as he is with fellow musicians. Whether they’re singing in French or Bambara or even English, there’s an uncomplicated universality to his and Mariam’s singalong-ready style of dance music, Amadou said. At times, there may even be an advantage to listeners not understanding the lyrics.
“When we were young in Mali we listened to Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and Jimi Hendrix because it was the popular music, but at first we didn’t understand the lyrics. We understood the melody. If you like the melody, if it’s a poetic melody, that can take you away. If it’s happy you’re happy, if it’s sad you’re sad. Lyrics do that, too, but you can do it without words.”
Amadou & Mariam
When: 8 p.m. Fri.
Where: Cedar Cultural Center