LIVE: Amadou & Mariam @ the Music Haven, 7/16/17
Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
By the time that Amadou & Mariam churned up the groove for “C’est Chaud” (“It’s Hot”), things were indeed heating up at the Music Haven in Schenectady’s Central Park last Sunday evening. And we’re not just talking about the super summer temperatures, either.
It was only the third song of their 90-minute performance but the open area between the stage and the seats was already jam-packed and dancing space was at a premium. But that’s pretty much a guarantee whenever the Malian Afro-pop pioneers wend their way through their catalog of irresistible rhythms and contagious good vibes.
The blind husband-and-wife duo were backed by a crack five-piece band – drums, bass, percussion, keyboards and backing vocalist/dancer – who kept the groove percolating all night long, which was pretty much the whole point. Amadou and Mariam sang and spoke in French, so there was something of a language barrier. And melodically there wasn’t a whole lot of variation, the majority of the 15 songs were constructed with just two and three basic chords.
But that was OK. No, it was better than OK. It was perfect. And while the duo’s vocals rode atop the chugging rhythms – Mariam’s showcase number “Wily Kataso” was a highlight of the night – Amadou’s guitar playing was everything and anything all at once, drawing on the supersonic phase-shifted mastery of Jimi Hendrix, the economical, tremolo-drenched gospel-blues playing of Pop Staples, the primal, rolling rock of Chuck Berry and the minimalist trance blues of Otis Taylor.
The newer material – including “Filaou Bessame” and “Boufou Safou” – was laced with some vintage new wave-ish synth playing, adding another delightful dimension to an already glorious evening of music from West Africa.
Ghanian singer-songwriter Jojo Abot opened the evening with an intriguing set that started off with some thoroughly experimental avant-soul backed by a drummer and keyboardist-saxman, but she had no problem winning over the crowd, and she enlisted more than two dozen women to dance onstage during “S.T.V. (Stop the Violence)” and an equal number of men to boogaloo with her during her joyous closer, “To Li.”
AMADOU & MARIAM SET LIST
UPCOMING: The Music Haven’s international concert series heads to Cuba on Sunday (July 23) with a free concert by Latin Grammy Award winners Septeto Santiaguero. Opening act Radio Jarocho brings the music of Mexico to kick off the evening at 7pm.