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Live Review: Amadou & Mariam

13 January 2014 | 2:48 pm | Lorin Reid

A confronting and delightful experience of music in the dark, attempted with an open mind and an open mind.

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When all the lights are out in Sydney Town Hall, you can't see your hand waving an inch in front of your face.
Welcome to the life of blind Malian couple Amadou & Mariam, who have created a musical experience called Eclipse involving the pitch-black hall and some mind-blowing funk/soul/African beats to allow other people to see how they see – with all of their other senses.
At first people whispered and giggled and joked that this was it – bird sounds in the dark. Then the lights faded to their full effect and the whispers stopped.
What followed was an evening of percussion – the unpredictable rhythms of the djembe and the tropical strains of some kind of xylophone. Amadou's electric guitar was tinny, improvisational and ever-present as their two voices were introduced and then woven together in a mixture of Bambaran, Mali's national language, and French.
The deep, thick timbre of a narrator described a Wikipedia-style rundown of the couple's life together between songs and soundscapes of children laughing or thunder rumbling that tag-teamed around the hall.
Mariam wrote a song for the welfare of all children – a ballad-style, lyrical chant, and there were funk-infused, organ solo tracks from later in their life as they toured France and met Stevie Wonder.
But it was the darkness, this momentary blindness that was most striking. It was at once claustrophobic and freeing and sometimes it was easier to close your eyes and drift into reverie. While the premise was great, it was even greater to see the band as light returned to the stage in the form of a moon revealed in a lunar eclipse.
A silhouette of the couple danced inside this huge moon and below, the real Amadou & Mariam were revealed, even though they had been there all along.
A confronting and delightful experience of music in the dark, attempted with an open mind and an open heart.