Amadou & Mariam – Eclipse: a dark transportation into a magical world
The lights go down, it’s impossible to see the person who just two seconds ago was sitting inches away. A cockerel then crows and we are transported to Mali, to the world of Amadou and Mariam.
It has long been the blind couple’s ambition to play concerts in total darkness so that audiences can hear their music as they do. Although it cannot quite capture what it must feel like to be blind, it certainly makes you listen to music in a totally different way.
For the past three nights in York Hall in Bethnal Green, London, the poet Hamadoun Tandina has told the story which runs through Eclipse, starting out with two children left blind by circumstance. We learn how they overcame their disability, becoming famous throughout Africa with the band Les Ambassadeurs du Hotel, through to the present day and their supporting of bands such as Coldplay and Blur.
It is quite strange that the strongest part of the story – the couple’s fascinating childhood and rise – is the part of the concert which has the weakest songs. However this gives the show a natural progression that works. The audience moves through their story and into the songs which have made them a global phenomenon.
Tandina’s narration and the tenderness in their voices evoke the relentless African optimism that cannot help but move anyone who comes into contact with it. Eclipse is more than a concert; it is a love letter to life, expressing the couple’s joy and their love for their music.
It would be wrong, though, to let the power of the couple’s story overshadow the beauty of their music. They blend traditional African music with rock guitars, their later music such as the epic Sabali and the thumping La Realité moving beyond their African roots to genuinely brilliant pop music.
If there’s one criticism one could have of Eclipse it is that the total darkness necessitates sitting rather still and the concert is a bizarrely solitary experience.
When the lights come up for the last two songs of the night the public finally gets to see and give thanks to a couple with an inspiring story, a rare artistic vision and, most importantly, incredible music.
Photos: Patricia Bailey
Watch the video of ‘La réalité’ here