Apart from a few exceptions like Nigerian Producer, Cobhams Asuquo and a few others, it is a rarity to see a visually-impaired person attain any notable heights of success especially in Africa where it seems like the all too easy route lies in living the life of a supplicant, perpetually dependent on the whims, caprices and mood swings of the society in which they live-barely so-.
When a full-sighted, full-limbed individual takes giant strides, we applaud enthusiastically, urging them on and learning from their experiences; what greater applause then shall we render to Mariam and Amadou, the Grammy Award-nominated musical duo from Mali?
Born in Bamako, Mali, Amadou Bagayoko [24 October 1954] lost his vision at the age of 16, while Mariam Doumbia [15 April 1958], his wife and musical partner became blind at age 5 as a consequence of untreated measles. A tragedy, a talent and a love-story all rolled up in one tale.
The pair, who are referred to as “the blind couple from Mali” met at Mali’s Institute for the Young Blind, where they both performed at the Institute’s Eclipse Orchestra, and found they shared an interest in music, amongst other things. Amadou is a guitarist and vocalist whilst Mariam is a vocalist.
From 1974, Amadou made music as part of the West African band Les Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako; after they were married in 1980, the couple began to play together while Amadou continued a successful solo career and ran the Young Blind institute’s music programme. Amadou & Mariam make music that mixes traditional Mali sound with rock guitars, Syrian violins, Cuban trumpets, Egyptian ney, Indian tablas and Dogon percussion.
The love-birds have had a successful musical career spanning several decades across the globe. Some of their highlights include winning the French Victoire de la Musique prize for best World Music album of the year with ‘Dimanche à Bamako’ in 2005. They also won two BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music in the African and Best Album categories for ‘Dimanche à Bamako’. In 2006, they recorded, together with Herbert Grönemeyer, the official anthem for the 2006 FIFA World Cup “Celebrate The Day” (German: “Zeit, dass sich was dreht”). The song topped the German charts in June 2006.
In 2008, their song ‘Sabali’ was placed 15 on Pitchfork Media’s Top 100 Best Tracks of 2008; it also became the most-played French single worldwide of 2009. Amadou & Mariam won the Best Group category in the inaugural Songlines Music Awards also in 2009, and in 2010, they appeared on FIFA’s Kick-Off Celebration for 2010’s World Cup, hosted in South Africa, alongside Alicia Keys, John Legend, Tinariwen and Shakira in front of 80, 000 people and hundreds of millions of TV viewers.
Amadou & Mariam have performed alongside some of music’s greats including K’Naan, Keziah Jones, Blur, Coldplay, U2, and Jake Shears from Scissor Sisters. From Mali to Cote D’Ivoire, to the United Sates and Paris, to the United Kingdom and South Africa, Amadou & Mariam have conquered the world with their peculiar brand of music.
The Ambassadors for the World Food Program have also published an autobiography ‘Away From the Light of Day’, chronicling their early years, life, music and struggles. A documentary entitled ‘Amadou & Mariam: The Magic Couple’ is also in the works. The busy duo who have spent most of this year touring and promoting their 2012 album ‘Folila’, are parents to 3 children-one of whom is an artiste-and as yet show no signs of slowing their roll.
Amadou & Mariam have lived-and continue to live- rich, fulfilled and successful lives, overcoming the tragedy of unnatural blindness and mastering the art of making plenty out of little. Tough times don’t last, but tough people do; don’t let that setback take the ‘oomph’ out of you. Live!!!