Singer Mariam Doumbia may have been influenced by Angélique Kidjo, and guitarist/vocalist Amadou Bagayoko by the work of legendary Cuban guitarists such as Compay Segundo. But, ultimately, the harmonious music of Amadou and Mariam - the blind Malian duo made famous by the wide-screen African pop of 2005's Dimanche à Bamako - finds its greatest inspiration in the wedded bliss of its principals.
"From the music came love, and from love came a home, so being together means that we share views and complement each other every step of the way that we share," Bagayoko says (through an interpreter) about how marriage affects the heart - sonically and lyrically - of all that A&M accomplish. The intimacy of love is what allows the duo to lend the same conversational largesse to both love songs and sociopolitical songs such as "La Realité." "That's how the message of music brings hope to people," Bagayoko says.
Don't let their joy fool you into thinking A&M have no gritty side. Theirs is a gutsy brand of African highlife with cool, languid guitar solos and deeply hypnotic rhythms. As time has gone on, Bagayoko has even found himself influenced by Jimi Hendrix. Yet it's the smooth soul of Dimanche à Bamako and their silken new Welcome to Mali that have made them a smash hit with bigger audiences.
"Mali is an evolutionary step for us. Breaking through with Dimanche enabled us to travel and meet people."
Bagayoko also talks about Somalian/Canadian MC K'Naan, who raps on Welcome to Mali, as well as Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz, who produces and plays on bits of the new album. Thanks partly to these collaborators, there are plenty of new ears joining the old listeners. "Americans understand our music because all our new influences are in place," Bagayoko says of the mod pop and electro strains in Welcome. "Africans can hear the roots of where we've been and the tradition of who we are."
And while there are new sounds and ideas to be heard throughout Welcome to Mali, its most riveting song, "Ce N'est Pas Bon," looks at an age-old worry: hypocrisy and corruption in politics. "We live these songs, where some guy from government wants to keep the power, and to keep the power they tell lies and refuse to keep their word," Bagayoko says. "In Africa, there's always been a lot of examples to inspire us to these types of songs."