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Amadou & Mariam - Mali to U2

2011-02-18 09:15
I’ll admit I didn't know too much about Amadou and Mariam when I was asked to do this, but in trying to find out as much about them as I could, I was truly blown away by their story - the blind “Magic Couple”, as they are fondly referred to, making great strides in doing what they love.  

Amadou and Mariam both grew up in Mali and met in 1977 while attending the Institute for Young Blind in Bamako.  Miriam was blind by the age of six and Amadou at the age of sixteen. Both possessed more than just a keen interest in music from a young age with Mariam becoming a household name within the community performing at weddings and other traditional ceremonies

Success within the music world is no easy feat at the best of times, and theirs seems all the more astonishing when taking into consideration factors that could otherwise be deal breakers.

Not only are they both blind, they are an African music act and don’t speak English. They're certainly not an act you’d expect to hear toured with Coldplay, or play at Gastonbury festival with Damon Albarn. Or share the stage with David Gilmour of Pink Floyd. And yet they have.

Down to earth

You would almost expect to encounter a little bit of ego from a band that has played with such greats and had been asked to play as a support act for U2, but there is none of that when I meet them. They are incredibly warm and refreshingly down to earth.

Amadou and Mariam have come a long way from their beginnings in Mali. Could they have ever predicted their success?

Quite simply, no. They have always played for the love of it and the opportunities have followed one after the other due to the fact that they have loved what they do and have been nothing but committed to just that.

Meeting their manager, Marc Antoine, opened up many more doors for them, in particular being able to perform in France. After that came a tour with Manu Chao and so began process of each significant event building upon itself and becoming larger.

Some of their highlights to date have been to play for Barrack Obama at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert, which they consider a tremendous honour as not just any musician is asked to play at such an event.  

Then, of course, being the support act for Blur on their comeback tour where they played in front of 80 000 people.

Touch the Cup

The Magic Couple have also played the FIFA World Cup twice, first in Germany in 2006 and then in South Africa in 2010. Germany holds a special place in their hearts as it was not only their first experience of the World Cup, but an emotional event as they were in Germany for the first time and representing Africa, performing the anthems.

Amadou fondly remembers that they also got to touch the trophy even before the players.

In spite of Mariam being the quieter of the two, with Amadou often taking the lead during our chat, she is very quick to shout out “Joy!” when asked how they feel about being asked to play with U2.

And when questioned who they would like to play with next, they seem quite content to have already played with a fair amount of their idols - and understandably so, it’s an impressive list.

I can’t help but wonder if such a humble couple feels intimidated by the opportunities that have come their way or feels overwhelmed by the problems that come with gaining popularity.

If they do, they certainly don’t seem to focus on it too much, but instead centre on the positive aspects.

Interesting social life

Amadou jokingly states that they undeniably have a very interesting social life now, which if you think of the company they seem to keep, I’d say is putting it mildly!

However, the chance to become involved with humanitarian issues is an important one for them and they’ve taken the chance that success has presented for them with open arms.

Not only are they representatives in the World Food Program, they are also committed to SightSavers, an international charity that works with partners in developing countries to eliminate avoidable blindness and WaterAid, an international NGO dedicated exclusively to the provision of safe domestic water, sanitation and hygiene education to the world's poorest people.

The next challenge for Amadou and Mariam is to discover Asia. They are planning on visiting this summer and want to create more awareness of their music. Something I don’t think they will have any trouble in doing.

Amadou & Mariam speak no English. But Christy Lee Howells chatted to them and came away inspired, charmed and warmed by the "The Magic Couple".
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