Amadou Bagayoko was born in Bamako, Mali in 1954, six years before the country declared independence from France. With eyesight that had been failing from birth, as a young boy he was unable to join in any communal outdoor work, but would play his flute and often found music a more lucrative way to pass the time. A love of rock and blues meant that the teenage Amadou swapped his flute for a guitar in 1967 and was taken under the wing of the Guinean guitarist Kanté Manfila.
As the 1970s dawned, Amadou, though now completely blind, was one of Mali’s go- to guitarists and in 1974 he joined Les Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako, the city’s most progressive big band. Idrissa Soumaoro, Les Ambassadeur’s sighted keyboard player, worked at Bamako’s Institute for the Young Blind. Among his favoured students was Mariam Doumbia – blind from the age of five, she was an accomplished songwriter.
In 1980, the couple got married and played their first gig together. 14 years later in 1994, they found a manager who promised to introduce them to an international audience. In January 2004, they performed with Franco-Spanish singer Manu Chao, playing songs from their next long-player ‘Dimanche A Bamako’. It went to No. 2 and spent 101 weeks on the French album charts, selling 500,000 copies. In early 2005, they won the ‘Victoires de la Musique’ prize, the French music-industry’s equivalent of a Grammy, for ‘Best Reggae/Ragga/World Album’.
The rest of that decade passed in a blur as Amadou & Mariam became Africa’s hottest musical export. They toured constantly, becoming regulars at Damon Albarn’s ‘Africa Express’ events, where each concert meant collaborating with the likes of Johnny Marr or Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The duo appeared on the Main Stage at Glastonbury, crisscrossed America, supported Blur at Hyde Park, toured with Coldplay and U2, performed at a Nobel Peace Prize concert in honour of Barack Obama and played at the opening ceremonies of the last two FIFA world cups. The duo also debuted their ‘Eclipse’ concerts, shows that take place in total darkness to allow their audiences to experience the music in the same way they do.
After ‘Dimanche A Bamako’ came ‘Welcome To Mali’ (2009) and ‘Folila’ (2012), two albums that expanded the Amadou & Mariam palette by introducing their African soul music to electro-pop, art-rock and hip-hop. The new album ‘La Confusion’, their eighth international album, two of Africa’s most popular artists return to stake their claim to be the continent’s most successful musical ambassadors of the 21st century.