After a five-year, hiatus husband and wife Afropop legends Amadou & Mariam are back with a trans-global dance album brimming with expectancy and joy.
La Confusion feels like the natural successor to the couple’s genre-defying work on 2012's Folila, a record on which their Malian heritage was given a distinctly western bent. Once again, there's a mix of exciting collaborations and strong western influences here, giving the feeling that the last five years have been a mere pause for breath before the music triumphantly returns. Only this time, it's us who must bend to the mastery of the couple's rich traditions.
Every track here demonstrates the integrity and intelligence of Amadou & Mariam’s music making, honed over more than 40 years of living, loving and playing together. The scoring is precise with musicians drawn from around the world including India, the Arabian Peninsula and South America to give the album a truly global feel that intentionally elevates it beyond the confines of one scene or genre.
La Confusion traverses house, blues, soul and funk without wavering from a distinctly Malian core, ensuring it's definitely not a disjointed collection of singles. Yet undoubtedly, it does have several stand-out songs; “Bafou Safou” is dark and plaintive with Mariam’s vocals equally cautionary as she warns of the danger of giving yourself fully to the dance, “Filaou Bessame” has an 80s-inspired saxophone solo that's pure pleasure as it pours over the staccato percussion for a complex jazz-inspired texture, while the title track is a poignant statement on the uncertainty of current endemic societal problems set to a pure synth groove.
Yet despite such intense themes, the record manages to stay light and joyful, revelling in the potential that music and dance possess to draw communities together and find resolution. Certainly, it is difficult to play La Confusion to its conclusion without feeling a sense of delight that's infectious.
Amadou & Mariam's list of achievements is immense; they've had one of the best-selling African albums of all time with their 2005 Manu Chao-produced Dimanche à Bamako, their work manages to capture the imagination of rock and pop crowds with no prior experience of Malian music; they've toured with Coldplay and U2 and played with other western musical legends such as David Gilmour and Johnny Marr; they historically performed at a Nobel Peace Prize concert in honour of Barack Obama and at the opening ceremonies of the last two FIFA world cups; they've worked with some of the most innovative names in contemporary rock via Damon Albarn’s Africa Express and other cross-cultural projects, such as L’Afrik C’est Chic. All of this has been achieved on a simple premise; to make music that is passionate, honest and devilish in its detail. This approach has surely made Amadou & Mariam two of the most referential and revered musicians of our time, something which La Confusion, in all its wonder, does nothing to dispel.