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Musicians Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia on their new album, 'Eclipse'

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEAUX DIMANCHES")

AMADOU & MARIAM: (Singing in French).

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Amadou & Mariam are beloved across the globe, ambassadors for West African music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEAUX DIMANCHES")

AMADOU & MARIAM: (Singing in French).

SIMON: Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia are married. They're from Mali, and they both lost their vision as children. They sing in French and Bambara on their latest album, "Eclipse," and tell a deeply personal story about their experiences with blindness and their rise to global fame. Amadou & Mariam join us in our studios.

Thanks so much for being with us.

AMADOU BAGAYOKO: Thank you.

MARIAM DOUMBIA: Merci. Thank you.

BAGAYOKO: Merci.

SIMON: Your newest record, "Eclipse," is taken from recordings from a performance you did 10 years ago at 2012 Manchester International Festival. You did the show in total darkness. Why?

DOUMBIA: (Through translator) Even if you can't see, you can understand what you're listening to. Music is - how can I describe it?

BAGAYOKO: (Through interpreter) We wanted to put people who can see into the world of those who can't. You can appreciate music even without vision. You can lean into your imagination. There's actually a lot you can learn by listening to music without trying to see.

SIMON: One of the songs you performed was a version of perhaps your most famous song "Sabali." I'm going to close my eyes, maybe some other people sitting at their kitchen tables or in their bedrooms might want to also as we listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DOUMBIA: (Singing in Bambara).

BAGAYOKO: (Through interpreter) In this song, "Sabali," we touched on topics of love. This song has lots of instrumentals, so even if you don't understand all the words, you can get close. You know, we're talking about love. I think it's probably best to listen to this song in the dark.

DOUMBIA: (Through interpreter) Yes, that's true. Music is borderless. You can listen even if you don't understand the lyrics. In that song, "Sabali," we sing about love, we sing about patience. When you're patient, there's so much you can achieve.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DOUMBIA: (Speaking French). I love you. Kiss me.

AMADOU & MARIAM: (Singing in French).

SIMON: How did the two of you begin to make music together?

DOUMBIA: (Through interpreter) We met at Mali's Institute for the Young Blind. I was a student there. I went to learn Braille. When I got there, they recognized that I had a beautiful voice, so they asked me to teach other students how to sing and dance. When Amadou arrived at the institute, we created an orchestra together.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AMADOU & MARIAM: (Singing in French).

BAGAYOKO: (Through interpreter) I'll add that I was in a lot of orchestras before going to the institute. I was already a musician. I started playing music when I was 2 years old. I played percussion, what we call in Mali djembe. When I was 10, I played the harmonica and the flute. After that, I started to sing and play the guitar. Everything went from there.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AMADOU & MARIAM: (Singing in French).

DOUMBIA: (Through interpreter) I started singing when I was 6 years old. I sang at weddings and baptisms. People asked me to sing at these events. They'd give me gifts. I listened to the radio a lot to the singers in Mali at the time. I imitated them. I loved music. I was always next to my father's radio. That's how it started. I see music as a gift.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AMADOU & MARIAM: (Singing in French).

BAGAYOKO: (Through interpreter) We fell in love through music. We both wanted to make music. She has a beautiful voice. And I was already a musician. Apart from that, when we sang songs together, the audience would say, wow, that's a good-looking couple. So not only did we love each other, but our audiences encouraged us even more.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ISAACH DE BANKOLE: There's an old saying in Mali - marriage is a rope that two people were on their necks to unite against the depravity of life.

SIMON: "Eclipse" features what amounts to clips from your personal stories. Let's play something. It's narration from the English version of Eclipse.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DE BANKOLE: Amadou and Mariam are ready for marriage. Everyone is mobilized that Sunday in Bamako for the grand celebration of their union. And believe me when I say that there was no lack of liveliness at that event. Some even came from the depths of Mali to witness it. Amadou and Mariam become the first young blind couple of Mali, and this title will follow them for years.

SIMON: Is there something that you hope people who hear this album can learn that's disclosed in these songs and in your personal story?

BAGAYOKO: (Through interpreter) We released the album "Eclipse" so that people could really understand our story, our journey, how we got started, how we became famous. We have to put this message out there so people understand that you can start out small and become huge as long as you maintain hope and bravery.

(SOUNDBITE OF AMADOU & MARIAM SONG, "DEMISSENOU")

SIMON: Let me ask you about another song on this album, "Demissenou." And in the narration, you say this is about a child facing what you call the injustice of destiny.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AMADOU & MARIAM: (Singing in Bambara).

SIMON: Mariam, you wrote this song. What did you want to convey?

DOUMBIA: (Through interpreter) I wrote this song in order to help children and take care of children. Unemployment was a major issue in Mali. Lots of people had very little. There were people who were sick. I wrote this song to encourage people to help them get out of these difficult situations. I often sing on behalf of children.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AMADOU & MARIAM: (Singing in Bambara).

DOUMBIA: Yeah.

(APPLAUSE)

SIMON: It's such an honor to have both of you with us. May we please ask if you could sing a little of a song for us before you leave?

BAGAYOKO: (Speaking French).

DOUMBIA: (Speaking French).

BAGAYOKO: (Speaking French).

DOUMBIA: OK. (Speaking French).

BAGAYOKO: (Speaking French).

AMADOU & MARIAM: (Singing in Bambara).

SIMON: The world-famed Malian musical duo, Amadou & Mariam. Their latest release, "Eclipse." This interview was produced by Danielle Kaye. We also had interpretation help from Yannick Tardy.

AMADOU & MARIAM: (Singing in Bambara). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Danielle Kaye
Danielle Kaye (she/her) is a 2022-2023 Kroc Fellow. Before joining NPR, Kaye worked as a business reporter at Reuters, where she covered compensation policies and union organizing at technology and retail companies. She graduated from UC Berkeley in 2021 with degrees in Global Studies and French. While studying in Berkeley, Kaye reported and produced for listener-funded radio station KPFA, covering protests and housing issues in California for KPFA's morning public affairs show. She was also a researcher at UC Berkeley's Human Rights Investigations Lab and a news reporter and editor at the student-run newspaper The Daily Californian. Kaye lived with a host family in Dakar, Senegal, in 2019, which inspired her to write her senior thesis about threats to Senegal's artisanal fishing communities.