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Amadou and Mariam review: MIF 2011

Caroline Coates is immersed in a world without sight at one of the more unusual gigs.

Published on July 16th 2011.

Amadou and Mariam review: MIF 2011

The Confidential MIF rating: 16/20 Originality 4/5; Performances (acting, singing etc) 4/5; Audience delight: 4/5; Production 4/5

'NO open toe footwear or strong perfume permitted,' has to be the most unusual door policies at a gig - ever.

I tried every bit to relax throughout the performance but I could do nothing to stop my mind from wandering to thoughts of when the lights would come up so I could see the beautiful Amadou and Mariam, and their talented orchestra.

Throw in an audience 'charter of participation' with strict rules on behaviour for the 90 minute performance and I was starting to feel rebellious. However, for the sake of what was to be an unusual musical experiment I made every effort to sit still and go with the flow.

We had arrived - a few minutes late, sorry! - to witness blind Malian musicians Amadou and Mariam stage Eclipse, their first concert played entirely in the dark. The idea was for the audience to experience music like the stars of the show - without sight - in a bid to heighten the other senses, in particular the sense of sound.

This was an interesting sensory concept, and one taken seriously. And for good reason, we discovered, as once inside the auditorium guests are rendered sightless. Ushers - who I can only imagine were wearing night vision goggles - offered us a necessary elbow and marched us adeptly and directly to our seats. There was a few seconds of confusion where I was convinced I had bashed several people on the back of the head with my trusted handbag and found myself apologising to thin air.

Regrouping, I reached out for my friend's arm and grabbed some unidentified body part of our guide. He laughed, I blushed (which would have been okay, if it wasn't for his ability to see-in-the-dark) and grappled for my chair.
Safely seated and out of harm's way I tried hard to make out the scale of the room, but couldn't even see my own hands.

Disorientated and a bit light headed, it was at  this exact point that the show - a tale of how Mali's most famous duo met and went on to take the world by storm - began. Queue atmospheric ambient soundscape of a typical street scene captured on tape in Bamako, the capital of Mali, West Africa.

Behind and to the left a couple of chickens clucked and scratched around in dry dirt while somewhere out in front and to the right the repetitive brush-brush of a street broom indicated a person working nearby. Softly spoken chatter revolved around giving the impression that people were on the move.

With vision now useless, I closed my eyes and let the sounds carry me off on a journey to West Africa. The soothing tones of Malian storyteller Hamadoun Tandina told the story of a romance that blossomed between Amadou and Mariam after they met during the punk rock late Seventies at The Orchestra for Young Blind in Bamako, when Mariam was just 15.

Amadou had lost his vision three years earlier aged 16. Mariam was left blind aged five as a consequence of untreated measles. The pair soon discovered they shared more than a loss of sight, but the same spirit and willfulness to prove being blind was far from a hindrance. Together they travelled spreading their song and views - a journey that would unwittingly catapult them to stardom.

It was a guesstimated (please note there was no light source to allow me to keep track of time) 15 minutes before the actual live music got underway, which was neatly woven into the unfolding chronicle. And what a joy to hear the sparse arrangements and  spindly yet irresistible harmonies of guitar and vocals from their early years develop into the fuller collaborations of sounds they are known for today.

I have been a fan of Amadou and Mariam for a number of years now. Having never before heard them live (despite their visit to the Manchester International Festival in 2009), this was my chance to finally ‘see’ them.

It is with regret that despite the incredible sound quality and fascinating story I felt somewhat cheated.

I tried every bit to relax throughout the performance but I could do nothing to stop my mind from wandering to thoughts of when the lights would come up so I could see the beautiful Amadou and Mariam, and their talented orchestra.

Thankfully the Eclipse did finally end, and the moon emerged along with the talents I had been craving to see.
Disappointingly, despite rapturous applause and persistent clapping willing an encore, the group played only the one sighted number.

Eclipse is on at The Co-operative HQ, New Century Hall, Confederation Street, Friday and Saturday 15 and 16 at 7.30pm and 10pm. Call the MIF box office for tickets (£29.90) on 0161 876 2198. 

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Jordan CreativeTimesJuly 17th 2011.

I really wanted to see this show! What an amazing experience but I can imagine how uncomfortable it could become...almost as if you are in a dream you can't wake yourself up from?

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