In the summer of 2019, Malian Afro-blues duo Amadou & Mariam joined gospel stars the Blind Boys Of Alabama to release the two-song EP “From Bamako to Birmingham.” Afterward, they toured Europe and are now making a swing through the United States, including a April 27 performance at Vets Auditorium.
Arts nonprofit FirstWorks will sponsor the event to showcase both the unique qualities of each group and their common ground.
FirstWorks, founded in 2004 with a mission of presenting culturally diverse performances and educational programs, was drawn to the artistic fusion between Amadou & Mariam and the Blind Boys Of Alabama.
“We see performances as a transformative force,” says FirstWorks’ executive artistic director, Kathleen Pletcher. “The idea of bringing together these two groups and what they’ve each put together was an opportunity for creative combustion between the artists themselves and with the audience, which felt like a great return to live performance.
“It’s kind of irresistible to think that these two groups are taking contemporary African music and American roots music, bringing them together, and we could be part of that.”
Amadou & Mariam’s rhythmic style incorporates guitar, violin, trumpets and other instruments, while the Blind Boys embrace traditional Southern gospel. Pletcher said this unique chemistry, along with a recent award nomination, will make the upcoming show special.
“The Blind Boys Of Alabama have been around as a group, obviously not the individuals, since 1939, and Amadou & Mariam have been touring for over 40 years,” she says. “You look at these two artists both sort of breaking the boundaries of their music to say, where do we cross over? What can we share with an audience that takes them to someplace new?”
Pletcher also mentioned another creative partnership, the Blind Boys’ recent collaboration with Béla Fleck, which earned a nomination for Best American Roots Performance at this year’s Grammy Awards.
“The artists and curators at FirstWorks were really interested in that curiosity,” Pletcher says. “They’re finding new places, and they’re astonishing us with where they go.”