Thursday, July 09, 2009


Well this was a gig that nearly didn't feel like a gig but all came good in the end. I'd heard stories of how good Amadou and Mariam were live and not having seen them before leapt at the chance to see them in an intimate setting. The Malian couple were playing with The Beating Wing Orchestra, a ten piece ensemble of musicians from asylum-seeker and migrant communities in Manchester. Uh-oh. Sounds a bit worthy, a bit 'social experiment'. But as one of the band said 'we all share the language of music' and boy was he right. So the Mali blues guitar sound was joined with Kurdish strings, Brazilian percussion, Bangladeshi rap, Bosnian fiddle, Chinese operatic bel canto etc. It could have been a mess but for the most part it worked beautifully.

The gig started with two songs performed just by Amadou & Mariam before they were joined by the other musicians. Most of the set was of songs from their 90s albums (pre-Manu Chao and Damon Albarn in the producer's chair) with a couple from new album "Welcome to Mali". At the end the orchestra got to play one of their own compositions which showcased the four different vocal styles they possessed to great effect - but left Amadou and Mariam out of the party. This finale (played twice) got a great reception but for me the times when the evening worked best was when the musicians were playing off or layering around the rhythms of Amadou's extraordinary electric guitar playing. It was primal, passionate and funky all at the same time -worth the entrance money alone to hear.
And why was this 'nearly not a gig'. Well arriving in the Pavillion (basically Wagamama benches dropped into a giant upside-down ice-cream cone) it was difficult to see where the band would play. The audience then queued (politely of course) to go into a side room which was in effect a marquee. The empty space at first felt like a flat wedding reception. The crowd was also heavily populated with suits (sponsors?) which caused some hilarity watching lots of photos being taken on Blackberrys held aloft. But once the music started and the rest of the crowd warmed up, the surroundings were irrelevant. Soon the crowd were dancing along to the music and the floor bounced along just like at the Ritz. For part of such a grand event as the Manchester International Festival and in such a seemingly anonymous space, the musicians were able to transform it into a sweaty club night, into a 'proper' gig. And for one night this part of Manchester felt like a funky outpost on the Mali river delta. Welcome to Mali, indeed.

Amadou and Mariam
Welcome to Mali [BUY]

Amadou and Mariam
Dimance a Bamako [BUY]

And for more Malian music see 14 Tracks excellent selection here.

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