Malian duo Amadou & Mariam have been a married couple and musical partners for nearly 30 years, since their serendipitous meeting at the Institute for the Young Blind in Bamako. Both of these sightless youths also had developing musical lives—Mariam Doumbia singing at various traditional festivals and functions since childhood and Amadou Bagayoko working as guitarist in Les Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako, one of the two largest Malian bands of the '70s and, like the ensembles of James Brown and Art Blakey, an intensive breeding ground for the development of brilliant musicians. As with their greatest rivals, the Super Rail Band, Les Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako deftly synthesized traditional Malian music with pulsing veins of American funk, blues, and rock. This hybridization would have a tremendous effect on all of contemporary West African music, and on that of Amadou & Mariam in particular.

Their early career in the late '80s yielded a humble fame, as "The Blind Couple of Bamako," that spread across western Africa, propelled by a series of small cassette releases. In 1999 they began releasing records via international major labels. The first song of their first major-label album, Sou Ni Tile, "Je Pense a Toi," achieves what many would consider the primary emotional feat of American blues music—the production of inexplicable, tingling joy from a direct expression of great depths of grief and pain. A hypnotic piece based on Amadou's resigned, tender-singing, serpentine guitar, and a woozy, weary violin accompaniment, "Je Pense a Toi" rolls with as much infinite inertia as anything Kraftwerk ever conceived, but manages a constantly engaging and wrenching joy and sadness throughout its duration.

In these sorts of moments, as in their more kinetic and funk-borne songs, Amadou & Mariam make true and pure soul music—a vital manifestation of the love they share with each other as projected outward toward the global population. Of the duo's goals and desires for their music, Amadou says, "It is complicated to find the essential purpose. We love it, and that is why we make our music, but we also want to use it to pass on messages of love, peace, and solidarity so that life becomes easier and everyone loves each other more."

With the internationally beloved release of their album, Dimanche Ă  Bamako, their music and messages seem destined for exponentially expanding reception. A collaboration with Franco-Spanish world-music star Manu Chao (who serves as both producer and frequent co-songwriter), the record breathes with a more constantly assured and irrefutably populist, golden stride than any of their previous releases.

"When [Chao] came to play with us, it let everyone know that our music was just as rich as his, and we all brought pieces and influences," says Amadou of their collaborative process. Dimanche's songs are indeed ridiculously diverse in their inspirations and stylistic makeups, but they maintain a consistent power and momentum centered on Amadou & Mariam's stirring voices and guitar playing. While tracks like opener "M'Bifé" and "La Fête au Village" are sparse, almost traditional-sounding lamentations, others, like live-audience-sampling raveup "La Réalité" and the villainously funky "Coulibaly" thump with sweaty abandon.

Chao's production occasionally dips its toes into the seas of cheese, as on the somewhat goofy, globalism-satirizing "Sénégal Fast Food" (for which Chao assumes the lead vocal role). For the most part, however, the record is winningly pure in its presentation of Amadou & Mariam's music and admirable for its fortified pop construction.

The couple's sudden African It-Band status is indeed well deserved, as Amadou & Mariam have achieved, more than any of their contemporaries, a moving and artful balance between the dusty melancholy of blues-soaked Malian countrymen like Boubacar Traoré and Ali Farka Toure and the sun-glinting pop rush of West African rock stars like Super Rail Band and Youssou N'Dour. Truly, Amadou & Mariam have crafted a unique but parallel fusion of these emotionally polar energies akin to that of American blues and soul music. Of the emotional dichotomy that seems inseparable from their music as well as that of many of their contemporaries, Amadou says, "Life is made of ups and downs, of joy and sadness. As musicians, we hope to send messages to join these two parts of life for everyone."