Amadou & Mariam: La Confusion

Photo: Hassan Hajjaj (Sacks & Co.)

A euphoric swirl of nostalgic synths and warm Afropop, La Confusion is a breath of fresh air from the ever-masterful duo of Amadou & Mariam.

Amadou & Mariam

La Confusion

Label: Because Music
US Release Date: 2017-09-22
UK Release Date: 2017-09-22
Artist website

Some artists are so consistently outstanding that just the knowledge that they’re planning to put out a new album is enough to sustain you through years that are otherwise pretty significant dumpster fires. This is one of those years, and Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia are two of those artists. As husband-and-wife duo Amadou & Mariam, they never fail to disappoint, and new album La Confusion sees the two step up their game once again with a blend of pan-African pop that will bring even the most jaded denizen of the 21st century back to life with their dancing shoes tied.

The first few notes of opening single "Bofou Safou" get the album off to a retro start. A sprightly, funky pop track moving at a driving pace, "Bofou Safou" is named for the Bambara term for young men who want to dance the day and night away instead of working, and it’s easy to sympathize; sitting still in the midst of so much brass feels like a crime. Vintage synths bend in such a way that the song sounds like it comes from a well-loved cassette, a little warped from replay after replay. That warmth comes naturally to Amadou & Mariam, and the album thrives on it from start to finish.

Masterfully catchy melodies mark similar throwback tracks like "C’est Chaud" and "La Confusion". Darker echoes make their way into the melancholy "Diarra", but the duo saves the bluesiest moments for last with twangy "Mokou Mokou Blues". Signature sounds of West and North Africa abound: the quivering flute lines on "Filaou Bessame" and "Yiki Yassa" evoke Egypt and the Middle East, and polyrhythmic layers of saxophone, drums, and handclaps on "Fari Mandila" harken back to classic Afrobeat.

When the music slows down, it tends to sway. "Ta Promesse" sees the synths lie low, a breeze that cools an organic build-up of strings, light percussion, and voices that all shine together, golden with audible love and reggae vibes. "Massa Allah" is sung with steadily growing power and a soaring winds duet between saxophone and harmonizing flute; it ends with a spirited chorus shouting out a united refrain of Masha’Allah -- "God has willed it."

Over the broad spectrum of sounds, styles, and tempos is not a single misstep; Amadou & Mariam deliver, as they always do, fresh music, crisply produced and full of a wide range of good feelings and great beats. "Bofou Safou" promises to be as iconic and memorable an entry in the duo’s output as 1999’s "C’est la vie" or 2005’s "La Réalité". And, as exceptional as the collaborations on previous album Folila were -- Santigold, Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears, and multiple members of TV on the Radio appeared, among others -- it’s refreshing to hear Bagayoko and Doumbia taking the spotlight and not having to share it. The two can hold their own just fine, and an album that is purely theirs is a great reminder of how talented the pair is.

It’s a cliché to say that an album transcends genre, but if that’s what it takes to get you to listen to it, so be it. Amadou & Mariam’s latest encompasses a whole host of sounds and serves as aurally delightful proof that Bagayoko and Doumbia are unafraid of musical evolution. With such an embarrassment of musical riches, chances are you’ll find something to love on La Confusion.

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