- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Multicolored light bulbs dangled above the faux streetscape on the Birchmere’s bandstand as Malian artists Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia, the duo known as Amadou & Mariam, took the stage Tuesday night.

Clad in matching brown-and-beige African dress, the duo grinned as the words of their opening tune, “La Fete au Village,” spilled from their mouths. The French lyrics translate to: “We are going to sing/ We are going to dance/ We are going to tell each other sweet words of love/ For the party in the village.” And so they did, with their village made up of themselves, their supporting musicians and the 800-plus bodies filling the Birchmere “township.” By the end of the 1-1/2-hour set, nary a still body could be found.

The artists, both blind, met roughly 30 years ago while studying at Mali’s Institute for Young Blind People. He was a guitarist and vocalist, and she a singer. They fell in love and married, thus beginning an era of making beautiful music together.

On their largest North American tour ever, Amadou & Mariam are riding the wave of their acclaimed recent release, “Dimanche a Bamako (Sunday in Bamako).” The album, produced with the help of legendary singer-songwriter Manu Chao, teems with upbeat ditties that weave together African rhythms and international influences. Like those on their other discs, the songs feature universal themes including love, peace and home.

On Tuesday, Amadou & Mariam drew heavily from “Dimanche.” Gone were the studio recording’s catchy sound effects and some of the more obscure instrumentation, but in their place, the musicians laid down solos that defined jamming out.

Mr. Bagayoko dazzled the Birchmere crowd with furious guitar picking that made his work on the album sound tame.

Bassist Laurent Griffon, keyboardist Igor Nikitinski and drummer Yvo Abadi all showed their chops, but percussionist Boubacar Dembele deserves special recognition. Within the songs’ loose frames, the musician performed drum acrobatics, beating the djembe as quickly as a bird’s heartbeat.

Meanwhile, Miss Doumbia’s snakey vocals slid across octaves. During “M’Bife,” the love song that kicks off the new disc, she rubbed Mr. Bagayoko’s shoulder as she crooned, “Baby I love you.” And the crowd believed her.

After the final song ended, the crowd continued clapping long after the band had left the stage, not yet ready for the party to be over.

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