It has been three years since the cult Malian pop stars Amadou and Mariam last played in Britain, at the Barbican in London for Damon Albarn's Mali Music project. With near-universal five-star reviews for their new album, Dimanche à Bamako (Sunday in Bamako), written and recorded with Manu Chao, and predictions of it becoming the soundtrack for the summer, their one-off show to launch the album in Britain at the tiny Marquee Club in Leicester Square is packed with an expectant audience.
They do not disappoint. The two stars, who met at the Institute for the Young Blind in Bamako 28 years ago, display an effortless cool and poise. The music is all about wonderful melodies and vocal lines locked together with danceable, hypnotic rhythms. It makes you feel good.
Clothed in splendid golden robes, they stand side by side as Amadou bends his head and starts to play, locking his guitar in with the bass of Laurent Griffon. They deliver a brilliant set that combines African funk with rock, blues and Caribbean elements and an irresistible pop sensibility for infectious melodies.
The set opens with the funky, percussive "La Fête au Village". Mariam takes the lead vocals, and her voice has just the right tone to match Amadou's no-sweat mastery on the guitar. The signature of their sound is in that golden mean between her voice and his playing. With the brilliant percussionist Boubacar Dembélé providing an unceasing polyrhythmic conversation with the rest of the band, the music comes over as a kind of African honky-tonk soul revue.
Amadou cut his teeth as a teenage guitarist in the legendary Les Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako in the late Seventies, and that glorious mix of African and Afro-American sources is still discernible in his playing.
More than half of the 80-minute set is drawn from the new album, but the sound is a lot fatter than on record - the likes of "Coulibaly" and "La Paix" sport snaking, shaking guitar riffs. "La Réalité", a funky sing-along, mutates on stage into an open-ended exploration of an impossibly catchy riff. "M'Bife" sports some lyrical blues playing, and the set culminates with some fabulous work-outs on "Nangaraba" and "Chantez, Chantez".
With festival appearances scheduled for the summer, Amadou and Mariam's music has the potential to be huge. Maybe Bob Geldof should think again about his guest list for Live8.