As Pitchfork's Joe Tangari has noted, Grammy-nominated musical duo Amadou & Mariam's (i.e. Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia, who have been married since 1980) album Welcome to Mali (2008) is something of a misnomer, "a strange title for a record that sounds so global". Produced by Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz), opening track 'Sabali' instantly appeals with its arresting blend of local and global music influences, a standout gem in "an eclectic landscape that at times sounds West African and at others sounds completely divorced from geography" (Pitchfork, 2008).
With 'Sabali', Amadou & Mariam manage to transcend geography and musical genres, earning praise from various critics for seamlessly synergizing Mariam's soulful vocals with hip-hop and electronic rhythms and blending the genres of electro-pop and urban dance to sublime effect. Pitchfork went on to rank it No. 15 on its list of the 100 Best Tracks of 2008:
"At once futuristic and crushingly nostalgic, this blind couple from Mali's first collaboration with Blur's Damon Albarn is a haunting electro-pop experiment that drips with soul. It begins with Mariam Doumbia in a conversation with gentle violins that sound beamed down from the International Space Station, then gives itself over to a synthetic rhythm and an arpeggiating keyboard. It has a lonely tinge that equally evokes Alan Shepard all alone on a suborbital flight and a lone traveler crossing the desert on a cold, starry night. It's honestly hard to pin down a song that has as many emotional currents running through it as this one, but it's truly a song for any state of mind, no matter where you are."
Mariam's vocals are so evocative that you don't have to understand a word of French to bask in its melodies and complex emotional currents. It begins with Mariam making a vaguely resigned phone call (presumably to Amadou) - and then the instrumentals take the track into a different territory altogether. When translated, the lyrics appear to be a heartfelt ode to a longstanding, joyous and fulfilling intimate relationship that exudes an abundance of exuberance, with Mariam casually interrupting her vocals with poignant, direct messages to Amadou:
'Cherie, je te fais un gros bisou [Baby I give you a great big kiss]Je te fais un gros bisou [I give you a great big kiss]Je t'embrasse fort [I hug you hard]Bye-bye!'
This shared love and life is, of course, the very source of the music itself. The opening verses are a declaration of an ars poetica ('We come to have fun with music') that the song swiftly executes with memorable effect. Halfway through the song, Mariam croons:
'Cherie, je m'adresse à toi [Baby, I’m talking to you]Avec toi, cherie la vie est belle [With you, baby, life is beautiful]
You'll probably be thinking the very same thoughts about this track: Avec la musique comme ça, la vie est belle.