It could be argued that it's become something of a trend in recent years to declare a love of world music. Blame Damon Albarn, Vampire Weekend, pretentious chin-stroking hipsters, or boneheads who think that namedropping Manu Chao or Tinariwen somehow makes them informed and intelligent. Forget the layers of vanity that enshroud many of the genre's patrons; forget the jazz musician-like tangents that many of its proponents wander off on, even. If there's one world music album you buy before the year's end, make it 'Welcome to Mali'.
Making music together since 1980, Malian couple Amadou & Mariam are obviously old-hands at this stage; yet it wasn't until their last (Manu Chao-produced) album 'Dimanche a Bamako' in 2005 that they began to make serious headway on the international scene. Despite the outside influences of their newly-found acclaim, the duo stay true to their African roots, only occasionally allowing bursts of different styles to flash through their songs like neon streaks. The result is a not-entirely-innovative record, but one that's inherently joyful from start to finish. And the pace is energetic without being draining, too: the beautiful Masiteladi interchanges tribal beats with a rock edginess, Africa (featuring Somali rapper K'Naan) uses horns suggestively to build excitement, while the tremulous title track incorporates big, orchestral swells into an innately African rhythm to delightful effect.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Damon Albarn is also involved in this album: he produced the glorious opening track Sabali, one of the dreamiest, fuzziest three minutes of funky lullaby pop you'll have heard in ages. It does make you wonder what masterpiece they could have concocted if he'd been given the reins for the entire show - but maybe next time. All in all, this is a thoroughly enjoyable collection of songs you'll find it hard not to wave your arms to - just don't listen to it on the bus.