Over the course of their career, Amadou & Mariam have changed the face of contemporary dance music. Four Tet, Jamie xx, Miike Snow, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Santigold all cite them as influences, and this April they’ll be returning to Australia for a huge string of shows.
But before then, we caught up with Amadou to chat about their genre-bending sounds, making music in chaotic times, and what the future holds.
“Music is like water, we need it to live”: Ahead of a huge Australian tour this April, we chat to Amadou & Mariam.
HAPPY: Hey, how’s it going? What are you up to at the moment?
AMADOU: Hello, first of all, many thanks for the interview request. We had a nice break in December and we are super happy to be back on tour! We are currently touring in Africa, with sold-out shows in Benin, Togo, Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire.
HAPPY: Your music is so genre-fluid. Are there any specific artists or genres that are inspiring you right now?
AMADOU: Well, we are very open and we have always the radio on at home. So it can go from Rihanna to Salif Keita, Jimy Hendrix, and Fela Kuti.
HAPPY: We can’t wait to see you at Bluesfest this year! Do you find that you approach festival slots and headline performances differently?
AMADOU: Yes, we are so excited to be performing at the Bluesfest. Well, each festival or venue is different. We always try to deliver a nice set, that we work in advance taking into account the length and audience we are expecting that night. In any case, we are ready to bring the best vibe with African beats and energy for our show at Bluesfest.
HAPPY: Your most recent album, La Confusion, is very aptly titled for these crazy times. In your opinion, how can music help alleviate pain and confusion in this day and age?
AMADOU: That’s right. When we wrote La Confusion we started based on what it was happening in our country, but suddenly we realized that is a global thing. Music is like water, we need it to live. And music can make you feel, change, expose so many things and with our music we want to have a message but also to make people dance and enjoy music.
HAPPY: You have been playing music for the better part of 45 years, has your attitude towards writing or performing changed in that time?
AMADOU: Yes, it has changed especially when I go back in time from the beginning that it was hard to even find an instrument in Mali. Also through our career, we have had the chance to meet so many musicians, artists and projects that have also influenced the way to compose and to mix other styles in our own music. For example, when we were working at the begging of our career at the Institut des Jeunes Aveugles (Institute for the Young Blind) in Bamako, we had the chance to get in contact with new music such as Pink Floyd or Bad Company through people that brought some cassettes, and by listening we started working on our own sound. Also when I was playing with Les Ambassadeurs we used to play so many different genres such as Brazilian music, Cuban music, Afrobeat. With this group, we used to play to hosts that were staying in the Hotel and the client used to ask for a specific song and we used to play a wide repertoire of music.
HAPPY: After so many years working in such close proximity, has anything changed majorly in your working relationship with each other? Do you ever have any major musical differences?
AMADOU: Understanding is the most important thing between us, we love each other and we understand each other, so even we don’t agree or have different opinions about something we talk and find out a solution. In any case, it’s easy because we love each other so much.
HAPPY: Did moving to Paris in the mid 90’s change the way you play and listen to music?
AMADOU: I’d say that moving to Paris gave us the chance to meet many people, from musicians, artists that we have had the chance to collaborate through the years.
HAPPY: How do you (Amadou) pull influences from guitarists like Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page into your expression of Malian Music?
AMADOU: They are some of my music references, my heroes along with David Gilmour. By listening to them and Eric Clapton or Alvin Lee I tried to create my own sound. We have different guitar styles, but their music has definitely influenced my way to perform the guitar.
HAPPY: Finally, can we expect a new album any time soon?
AMADOU: Yes! We are currently working on some new demos, recording and composing news things. I don’t know yet when we will be back on the studio to record, but hopefully very soon.
Catch Amadou & Mariam in Australia next April at the following dates:
April 12 – The Factory Theatre, Sydney
April 14 – Recital Centre, Melbourne
+ Also performing at Bluesfest Byron Bay 2020.
Grab more info here.