Amadou & Mariam, D'Gary | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Amadou & Mariam, D'Gary

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Malian husband and wife Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia, who met as students at a school for the blind, have been experimenting with the circular, blueslike patterns of their native music since the early 90s. Specifically they've been narrowing the gap between their own traditions and the blues rock of America: although the insistent but gently articulated riffs favored in the music of countrymen like Ali Farka Toure and Habib Koite cascade through their tunes, Bagayoko and Doumbia prefer to play them on electric guitars, and they frequently add little improvised stabs that sound like they could have been recorded at Chess Studios four decades ago. On albums like Tje ni mousso (Circular Moves, 2000) and the brand-new Wati (out in France on Universal and due here from Circular Moves next year), they pull off the mix of African and American with a finely wrought balance, and the new album finds them bolstering their rhythmic support system with more international elements, such as the Gnawa groove that seethes beneath the surface of "Lahilala." Purists won't dig it, but for those who can accept a shrinking world it's good stuff. The music of Malagasy guitarist D'Gary, on the other hand, sounds like it's from another world entirely. He's a monster fingerstyle player whose nimble picking provides surprising depth. His simultaneous bass lines and buoyant improvised melodies are full of unpredictable moves; unlike the ramblings of John Fahey or Leo Kottke, D'Gary's music is downright bubbly. On his superb new album Akata meso (Indigo), he's joined by a number of guests who shade his work perfectly. Singer Irma Ratazanina contributes vocals that are both soulful and hook filled. Tabla player Nantha Kumar might seem like a strange addition; India and Madagascar are separated by the Indian Ocean. Yet Kumar follows the guitarist's every move, as if they've been playing together since they were kids. Wednesday, July 24, 8 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707. Amadou & Mariam also play Thursday, July 25, 7:30 PM, Spirit of Music Garden, Grant Park, Michigan between Harrison and Balbo; 312-742-4007.

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