The question “how on earth do they follow this?” has hung in the air almost since the very moment Amadou and Mariam released Dimanche a Bamako, their award-hoovering collaboration with Manu Chao in 2005. Although Welcome to Mali doesn't quite have the same easy charm or proliferation of hook-laden nuggets as that album, thanks to the continued involvement of Dimanche co-producers Marc-Antoine Moreau and Lauren Jais the Malian couple continue to expand their earthy rhythm and blues into pop crossover territory.
Without Manu, there is a little less of the found sounds and languid laid back grooves, and a bit more of the basic Amadou and Mariam R 'n' B template of guitar, rhythm section and those charmingly limited vocals, although the palette of sound is expanded at requisite moments – to the horns, keyboard and balafon of Dimanche are added ngoni, njarka fiddle and kora, and they even manage to pull off a couple of string arrangements on the title track and the ballad I Follow You.
However, if Welcome to Mali lacks the sense of momentum and cohesion of its predecessor, it's in part down to over-dependence on guest appearances. Clearly the couple are hot property at the moment, but there's an air of tokenism to the superfluous additions of the likes of K'Naan and Juan Rozoff to songs that would stand up perfectly well without them. An exception is Damon Albarn, who is admirably restrained in support of Ce N'Est Pas Bon and, as guest producer, infuses Sabali with a sweet sound that's mercifully closer to Gorillaz than The Good, The Bad and The Queen.
Overall then, a satisfactory and place-cementing follow-up that consolidates and expands their appealing pop-meets-roots sound.
Amadou and Mariam website