Over nearly forty years performing and recording music, Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia have paired their eclectic brand of Malian blues with collaborators from countless countries and genres. So, it is only fitting that for their eighth studio recording, the husband and wife duo would deliver a free-flowing affirmation of the power of music in all its forms. Initially, Folila was conceived as two separate projects, one a traditional set built around African instrumentation, and the second a crossover endeavor recorded in New York and featuring assorted guests from the western pop world. Eventually the two sets were merged, resulting in a collection of musical bridges, bringing together genres, instruments and generations often at odds in the notoriously fickle world of music.
“Dougou Badia” is a superb tone-setter, pairing vintage African drums with searing electric guitars, providing a spellbinding backdrop for the tag team vocals of Mariam and urban alternative favorite, Santigold. “Metemya” unfurls with a more freewheeling, improvisational energy, but is grounded by precise percussion. The falsetto backing harmonies from Jack Shears of Scissor Sisters make a compelling counterpoint to the Amadou’s commanding baritone. “C’est Pas Facille Pour Les Aigles” explodes from the speakers like a crisp, two and a half minute Creole/Rock N’ Roll anthem.
For all it’s breadth and adventurous spirit, Folila doesn’t quite pack the visceral punch of 2005’s unapologetically roots driven Dimanche a Bamako. Selections like “Baro” and “Africa Mon Afrique,” while bolstered by strong instrumentation, never quite mesh their disparate elements together. Yet, the fact that Amadou & Mariam can really only be measured against themselves is testament to the standard of dynamism and musicianship they have set throughout their career. Ultimately, Folila fits right into that legacy, while managing to expand it just a little further.
– Jeff Harvey