It’s been a decade since Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia became sudden celebrities — soon after releasing their 2008 Grammy-nominated album Welcome to Mali. The blind Malinese duo moved on to play the world stage, serenading audiences with their genre-breaking brand of Afropop and Malian blues, becoming the biggest-selling African act in recent times. And to have supported bands like U2 and Coldplay, they have to be quite something, right?
On Monday, the musical tour de force took to the Singapore stage for the first time to promote their eighth studio album, La Confusion. The Capitol Theatre isn’t my first choice for a gig like this, but considering the group’s relatively small fanbase, it’s better than a lot of smaller venues out there, all things considering. The acoustics are decent enough, and the seats on the first floor can be removed to make it suitable for dancing. Because it’s not really a Amadou and Mariam show if there’s no dancing.
Listen to ‘Bofou Safou’, the first track from La Confusion.
Amadou’s bluesy guitar and Mariam’s sonorous vocals are accompanied by a five-piece band: a strapping African percussionist, drummer, keyboardist, bassist, and a backup singer who dances better than anyone I know. The live show doesn’t start out full of energy, but it’s understandable. Ta Promesse is a slow track about people that don’t fulfil their own promises, and it takes some time to soak in. It’s not until the third song C’est Chaud that the crowd, which was predominantly white and French (the pair currently lives in Paris), started to move, when Mariam called for the audience to sing together.
For two people who perform in complete darkness, their matching outfits are brilliant — flowing white boubou robes decorated with intricate and colourful embroidery. Amadou plays a golden guitar, soloing with funky prowess in nearly every song. His skill is most apparent in a glorious three-minute solo in Masiteladi, later blending his rich voice with Mariam’s swaggish falsettos in new songs Yiki Yassa and Bofou Safou.
The latter is visibly more shy, but the couple fits together naturally. By the twelfth song Africa, the mood reaches an all-time high as the pair decks it out over choruses of “Africa! Africa! Africa!” Towards the end of the encore piece — a hypnotising mashup of two old songs Je pense à toi and Sabali — Mariam reaches her left hand up to Amadou’s head, running her fingers affectionally through his close-cropped hair, singing in English “Darling, I love you.”
They may not have been able to see past their cool signature sunglasses, but for everyone else and myself, it’s the sweetest thing we’ve seen in awhile.
Amadou & Mariam performed on Monday, 12 November 2018 at Capitol Theatre Singapore.