Amadou & Mariam at the Cedar Cultural Center, 8/7/12

Categories: Last Night
Photo by Erik Hess
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Amadou & Mariam
Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis
August 7, 2012

Some shows are just perfectly suited for the summer. Tuesday night's uplifting performance by Amadou & Mariam at the extremely sold-out Cedar Cultural Center was indeed one of those shows. The effervescent blind couple from Mali delighted the crowd with their distinct modern style of Afro-beat, delivering a 90-minute set that had both the band and the appreciative audience dancing the summer night away.

It was the last night of the Cedar's African Summer on the West Bank music series, and they sure picked a grand finale to finish with, as the celebrated Malian music duo Amadou & Mariam made their debut Minnesota appearance at the intimate club. And judging by the jubilant reactions of the fans who packed the place, everyone is hoping that they come back sometime soon.

Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia were led out on stage to rapturous applause, wearing matching lime green outfits and big smiles on their faces. Amadou quickly asked the audience (for the first of many times throughout the energetic performance), "Do you feel all right? We are really happy to be with you tonight." And Mariam chimed in with an accurate prediction, "It's going to be hot in here tonight."

Photo by Erik Hess

And with that the duo started off the opening track, "Mogo," on their own, as their four-piece backing band (featuring a bassist, keyboardist, and two drummers) filed in behind them as the buoyant song took flight. "Batoma" featured Amadou leading the way on guitar (as he would all night), delivering smooth, bluesy licks as the band kept the pace behind him.

Amadou & Mariam's music is so joyful and positive, with everyone on stage and in the crowd smiling broadly. It's such a drastic, and welcome, change from the rather gloomy nature of most modern rock. Without being able to understand most of their lyrics, you are left letting the tone and tempo of the track inform you as to what sentiments lie at the heart of the song. And without having to concentrate on the words, you can fully give yourself up to the upbeat rhythms and melodies that the band is creating, free-spiritedly moving in time to the beat.

Photo by Erik Hess

While Mariam comes across as the cool Godmother of Malian soul, Amadou absolutely shreds on his stylish gold guitar throughout the performance, with the talented band consistently deferring to him while he sets the frantic pace of the song with his deft guitar work. "Africa Mon Afrique," "Masiteladi," and "Wily Kataso" (which, on their new record Folila, features Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone from TV on the Radio) all soared, with Amadou's riffs lighting the fire while the dual-percussionists set the tempo along with the smooth low tones from the lively bassist. Mariam even flashed what metal-heads typically refer to as devil-horns while her partner soloed away dynamically during "Masiteladi," obviously enjoying Amadou's work as much as everyone in the crowd.

"Kobena" featured one of the percussionists tearing it up on the djembe, giving the song a spirited pulse that really got the crowd dancing. After a sultry, bluesy take on "La Realite," Mariam took over for a rousing run through of "C'est Pas Facile," which wisely did away with the street-pop influence of Ebony Bones featured on the recorded version to focus instead on Doumbia's indomitable vivacity. The breezy, island rhythm and riffs of "Facile" washed benevolently over the crowd, as everyone on stage looked like they were having the time of their lives, a merry, carefree mood which easily transferred to the audience.

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