After a considerable amount of copy & pasting (along with many additions to the categories section of the website), I have finally transferred all of my old music reviews from my old music review blog to my more all-purpose blog, mainly for the purpose of centralizing all of my traffic in one convenient place. This will be my first album review after a nearly 8 month hiatus, but I’m hoping all of the blogging experience and analytic writing I’ve done since then will more than make up for any rustiness. Now that the new school semester has started, I have a nearly 30 minute walk to class along with an hour long waiting period between classes that is too short to return home so I’ve gained a lot of free time to just sit and listen to music. While I actually won’t review something that I was listening to while walking (cause I’m only able to half-listen), as I was waiting for my classes to begin today, I had the very pleasant opportunity to listen to a hidden gem of an album that I’ve loved for a long time, 2008’s Welcome to Mali by Amadou & Mariam. It’s a nearly perfect amalgamation of blues, funk, rock, and electronic interludes that is only bogged down by an excessive length and the occasional repetition of melodies and sounds.
Amadou & Mariam are a Malian couple that met while students at a school for the blind. They sing in French and while I have absolutely no clue what most of their songs are about (except the rare ones that are partially in English), that does absolutely nothing to diminish my enjoyment of this album. Much like Santana’s Abraxas, Welcome to Mali is world music as pure, never ending genre fusion. Not since the last time that I listened to the Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense have I heard an album that so seamlessly combines such a wide array of seemingly disparate genres. The album bounces from traditional African instrumentation and sound to electro-funk to hard rock to the blues to more traditional pop sensibilities. This is all layered with a rich sonic tapestry that explores considerable electronic influences even while the pair lay down rocking lead guitar solos or groovy bass riffs. Did I mention that this one of the most danceable albums that I’ve reviewed for the blog as well?
One would never guess from the heavily electronic and futuristic intro to the album, “Sabali,” just where this album is going to blast off to. “Sabali” segues directly into the catchiest track of the whole album, the political “Ce N’est Pas Bon”, an Afro-funk political anthem. The funk and complex orchestration accompanying the grooves fades to some mellower stuff with “DJuru” which introduces some unexpected but welcome flamenco guitar work. Just when it seems that things are mellowing for good, you get the hard rock track “Masiteladi” with well-placed power chords and the best lead guitar solo of the whole album. Then, the album slows again for the English “I Follow You” which might not be the best song lyrically on the planet but it has an absolutely gorgeous use of strings and a steady rise and fall of the intensity of the music for a very emotional experience. The album simply goes all out for its final three numbers as it proceeds to combine all of its influences you’ve heard separately into sheer electro-funk/rock bombast, especially on “Batoman” which is simply the strongest track on the album.
As much as I love this album, it’s, unfortunately, not perfect. While this section has plenty of great tracks as well, the middle section of the album can become a little bloated when a lot of the funky riffs you’ve heard before are repeated and strangely out of place tracks like “Je Te Kiffe” jar you out of the “album” experience. However, these are minor quibbles. As I’ve said, I don’t speak a word of French, but this album never felt inaccessible for one second during my listen. This is fun and engaging funk-rock at some of its finest. This was an incredibly ambitious album, and while it may not succeed on every front, when it hits the right notes, there is absolutely no choice but to sit back and get lost in the music.
Final Score: A-