Amadou and Mariam, K’naan and Ba Cissoko, Roundhouse, London

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At last London has a venue fitting for world music gigs. The refurbished Roundhouse, a legendary venue with a fine heritage, provided a wonderful stage for a strong line-up with the fêted “blind couple from Mali” topping the bill.

An enthusiastic audience made up of world music aficionados and a young, mixed crowd were not disappointed, despite the fact that the sound engineer struggled to control the acoustics of the venue.

As the crowd swelled, Ba Cissoko took the stage. Already dubbed the Jimi Hendrix of the kora, the 21-stringed harp-like instrument, Cissoko does not yet have the showmanship of his hero. But he does have a quiet confidence that comes from being one in a long line of Griots – West Africa’s caste system for musicians. He played a selection of songs from his fine new record, Electric Griot Land and it was an accomplished performance.

K’naan – who makes a guest appearance on Cissoko’s record – fared better. The Somalian rapped in what he called the “African way”, since he didn’t resort to sampled drumbeats but was backed instead by a percussionist and acoustic guitarist. He threw out hard-hitting poetry such as “smile while you’re bleeding”.

All of which set the stage well for African music’s first couple: Amadou and Mariam. They met at Mali’s Institute for the Blind in the 1970s where they discovered their love for music and each other. Amadou plucked and strummed a striking red electric guitar with passion to accompany Mariam’s warbling voice. Backed by a full band, they rode through a set that took a while to warm up but which found a compelling power, especially in the contributions from their recent Manu Chao-produced record Dimanche à Bamako, “La Réalité” being a stand-out performance. With great guitar riffs and catchy melodies, Amadou can rock and at times threw his head as Mariam stroked affectionately – both possessed by the power of song that they so clearly deliver to us too.
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