Amadou & Mariam Credit: MIGUEL MEDINA

Few artists have done more to popularize the sound of West Africa than Amadou & Mariam. The blind Malian couple have built a career tweaking and modernizing traditional Mande forms, first by underlining affinities with American blues and then by opening up their sound to outside producers, especially Franco-Iberian star Manu Chao, who has helped them achieve global fame. In recent years they’ve cast a broader net, with mixed results. The duo’s disappointing 2012 album Folila (Nonesuch) included collaborations with indie-rock and electro-pop artists, and the hybrids began to water down their essence. Later this year they’re due to drop a new album called La Confusion, and the first single from it, “Bafou Safu,” indicates another shift, this time toward electronic dance music. The soulful, piercing vocals of Mariam Doumbia cut through synth-driven grooves, lending an air of solemnity to a song that otherwise goes straight for the dance floor with posthouse rhythms and vocoderized backing vocals. Another track from the initial EP, “Filaou Bessame,” features the unmistakable spindly, bluesy guitar licks of Amadou Bagayoko. Still, the production has a tendency to box in the couple’s naturally spacious sound, compressing it with a radio-friendly polish and a saxophone line that sounds cribbed from a George Michael ballad. I’m sure the duo’s live show will break free of such studio constraints, but here’s hoping these early singles are anomalous to what follows.   v

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