Folila - Amadou & Mariam

Nonesuch

If music is not able to save the world, it must at least be a positive by-product of adversity. Mali, once the ancient seat of power for the rich and influential Mandinka Empire is today tearing apart on thread-bare seams. The once nomadic Tuareg launched a separatist insurgency taking Timbuktu and other key northern points they claim as part of their ancestral homeland. On March 22nd, President Amadou Toumani Touré was ousted in a coup d'état over his handling of the crisis, a month before a presidential election was to have taken place. All the while, a sub-Saharan drought threatens the lives of a million children. Yet, the beginning of 2012 has also seen an abundance of vital new African music recordings, from Mali especially. Emerging from these swirling sands of unrest is Folila, the seventh album from Mali's blind couple of the blues, Amadou and Mariam; another stunning achievement from the pair who have nearly single-handedly projected an image of African modernity on the face of popular music. As with 2004's heavily Manu Chao-influenced Dimanche a Bamako and 2008's spectacular Welcome To Mali featuring collaborations with Gorillaz' Damon Albarn, K'naan and Keziah Jones, Folila is enriched by contributions from some of today's biggest taste-makers. With music monarchy clamoring to have them share the stage, Amadou and Mariam could most certainly take their pick of the elite. Electrothrasher, Santigold trades joyous melodies with Mariam over a glitchy guitar riff for the hook-laden opener, Dougou Badia. The album suffers from few down moments from there on through. Hey wait! I thought this was the blues?! Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone (who shone on Tinariwen's Tassili) turn in a less lustrous performance on Wily Kataso. Jake Shears from the Scissor Sisters renews old acquaintances with the life partners on Metemya, a crowning moment of sophistication for the album. French rock star, Bertrand Cantat's gravelly delivery scores on four of Folili's tracks. Ebony Bones chants through the dance floor burner, C'est Pas Facile Pour Les Aigles (It's Not Easy For The Eagles). Tuareg guitarist Abdallah ag Oumbadougou plays off Amadou's slick licks on Bagnale and Brooklyn rapper, Theophilus London rhymes and belts out a gorgeous chorus on the road-worthy, Nebe Miri. Crisp and transparent production by Marc-Antoine Moreau puts the polish on this gem. My only beef is the non-descript packaging and indecipherable lyric booklet, meant I'm assuming, to look like sketches of lyrical remnants stitched together through arrows and stroke-throughs in the scrawled handwriting of a creative musical mind. That’s deep, but virtually useless to anyone seeking insight into the subject matter of these priceless pieces of global pop. I'm talking to you Francois Morel! Oh well, the graphics may be a dog's breakfast but Amadou and Mariam's Folila is a banquet for the ears.