Amadou & Mariam @ Elisabeth Murdoch Hall

I kicked off the Easter long weekend with this lively and funky show by the husband-wife duo from Mali. I love our homegrown talent but it’s great to finally see an international act after nearly two years!

I always meant to explore more of Amadou & Mariam besides their 2008 album Welcome to Mali, which is still up there with my absolute all-time favourite records, so I was thrilled to see that they were bringing their infectious Afro-blues to the Melbourne Recital Centre. I figured that you couldn’t possibly create music that joyful and full of energy and not be a great live act, and sure enough it was one of the most entertaining and fun gigs I’ve been to.

Unfortunately I had poor sleep the night before and just barely made it through the last working day at home before the Easter break, so I decided to skip the opening act and try to have a bit of an evening snooze instead, before propping myself up with Berocca and heading out. I had a nice chat with a woman sitting next to me at the show, a huge Amadou & Mariam fan who told me that I absolutely have to go to Adelaide’s WOMAD festival (I seriously considered going this year, but since it was going to be a pretty much all-Australian line-up thanks to The Rona, I thought I might wait until the international acts are fully back).

You could tell from the start that this wasn’t going to be a kind of concert where the audience just sits sedately and politely in silence while the band plays on. The power couple (both blind – apparently they first met at Mali’s Institute for the Young Blind where they discovered mutual love for music) were resplendent in their Malian garments; Mariam seemed the shyer one of the two, but they both addressed the audience a lot, who didn’t seem to mind that most of their crowd banter was in French.

Amadou, who also plays guitar, often went off into exhilarating extended jams. Meanwhile their scene-stealing, hat-wearing bass player strutted and hopped around the stage with the biggest grin on his face, served up some banging 80s style bass, and invited the crowd to clap along with every song. It all made for such a positive and happy vibe; even the pasty nerdy guy at the keyboards was dancing up a storm.

It seemed like a crime not to be up dancing and grooving, and about two thirds into the gig the irrepressible bass player urged everyone to get up from their seats. Melbourne crowd can be notoriously reserved, but everyone seemed to be happy to stay up on their feet for the rest of the show, just as it should be. I forgot all about my tiredness and busted out some bellydancing moves.

I of course expected to only recognise a small handful of songs, and they did play about four or five tracks from Welcome to Mali, including Sabali, an electronic-based tune that’s a real showcase for Mariam’s soulful vocals. Their blend of African and Western influences is so rich, inspired and creative that I really didn’t mind not knowing most of the music – loved it all. It was also so sweet to watch a long-time couple still united by love for each other and the music.

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