Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Amadou et Mariam

Mark Edwards tells us how Marc Antoine Moreau got to know Amadou et Mariam's music.
Next time you’re standing at a bus stop, bored and increasingly stressed as you wait for a bus that never seems to come, it may help your mood to know that sometimes wonderful things can happen because a bus is running late. If it wasn’t for a bus taking its own sweet time, the rest of the world might never have discovered the amazing music of the Malian couple Amadou & Mariam. (...)

Back in 1995, Marc Antoine Moreau, an A&R man at a French record label, was in Senegal visiting one of his artists, Ismael Lo. Deciding that he couldn’t come all the way to Africa and not see more of the continent, he took the train from Dakar to Bamako, the capital of Mali. After a few days in Mali, he was ready for the next stop on his itinerary, so, as he remembers: “I went to the bus station to take a bus to Ivory Coast. It was a small bus station, and the company I took the ticket with was just starting. They wanted to wait until the bus was full before they would go. So we had to wait three days.

Moreau had little money, so he basically stayed at the bus station for three days. “One day, a little boy came to me with a big box full of tapes. I looked at one. The cover said, ‘The blind couple from Mali — Amadou & Mariam.’ I looked at the title of the first track, A chacun son problème [Everyone’s Got Their Own Problems]. I liked the title, so I played the tape. I loved it.

While he was playing the tape, the woman sitting next to him on the bench said: “That’s my sister you’re listening to.” At first, Moreau assumed she meant it in the sense “We’re all brothers and sisters”, but, astonishingly, it really was Mariam’s sister. The couple were on tour in Burkina Faso, and Moreau didn’t have the money to stay and wait for their return, so he asked Mariam’s sister to pass on the message that he liked their music.

Over the next year, Moreau played their tape to friends and colleagues. Then, one day, someone who had heard the tape told him Amadou & Mariam were playing at a restaurant in Paris. Moreau headed down there and introduced himself. “Ah,” said Amadou, “you’re the guy from the bus station.

It took two years for Moreau to put a deal in place to bring the couple back to France, with the aim of spreading the music beyond France’s Malian community. Over four albums, they became stars in France, but it was eight years before the collaboration with Manu Chao that would take them to the next level. That’s nothing. They had actually been playing together for almost 20 years before they met Moreau, and it had been a dozen years before they had even been able to make their first recordings — which involved moving to the Ivory Coast, as there was no real recording industry in Mali.
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