Artist Profiles: Baaba Maal

Baaba Maal live in 2010

Baaba Maal was born in Podor, a town with a population of 6,000, on the banks of the river Senegal that separates the country of the same name from Mauritania. Baaba’s family is Hal Pulaar, known in the English speaking world as Fulani. He is not from a jeli family (the hereditary caste of musicians and oral historians).

Music was an integral part of Baaba Maal’s’s childhood. His father worked in the fields but was also given the honor and responsibility of using songs to call the worshippers to the mosque. Baaba’s mother was a musician who sang and wrote her own songs educating her son in the musical forms of the area and encouraging the young Baaba to value intelligent and thoughtful lyrics.

At the same time Baaba was listening to black music coming out of the United States of America, people like James Brown, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Etta James. Later he caught up with Jamaican musicians such as Toots Hibbert, Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff who Baaba later met on a tour of Senegal in the mid-70’s along with band guitarist of the time, Ernest Ranglin.

Baaba went to school in St. Louis, the original French colonial capital and, on winning an Art scholarship, on to Senegal’s modern capital, Dakar. There he joined Asly Fouta a group of 70 musicians and spent his time with the group learning as much as he could about the local musical instruments and how they work.

After leaving college, he toured West Africa with longtime friend, guitarist and jeli, Mansour Seck, soaking up more knowledge, “it’s traditional for young musicians to do that. When you arrive in every village you do a gig. This makes you friendly with all the young people who are in the village. The next day the young people take you to visit the oldest person who knows about the history of the village and the country and about the history of the music”. From there Baaba lived in Paris for several years, studying at the Fine Arts Conservatary, with ears still wide open. On arriving back in Senegal, Baaba formed his band Daande Lenol (Voice of the People).

On his CD, Missing You….Mi Yeewnii, Baaba Maal focused on the acoustic, poetic side of his heritage. The original recording sessions for “Missing You used a mobile studio based in Toubab Dialaw, Senegal, and took place outdoors after dark which accounts for the clicking of crickets which can heard throughout the album. The recording continued at Real World Studios in Wiltshire and the album was mixed at Abbey Road and Real World.

With a dozen solo and collaborative albums behind him, Baaba Maal is a man with a mission beyond his music. In his role as Youth Emissary for the United Nations’ Development Program, Baaba Maal is committed to the concerns of families, young people and the future of his continent. When he tours the world, his role as a representative of the United Nations’ Development Program is never far away. Both elements come together when Baaba features in musical projects such as the Fela Kuti Tribute Red Hot and Riot , put together by HIV/Aids awareness campaign group The Red Hot Organisation.

In February 2005 Baaba was the special guest speaker for a lecture at the British Museum where he gave his views on Africa, speaking passionately and eloquently of the continent?s strengths and its
challenges. On April 1st 2005 he sold out a special performance at the UK’s Royal Festival Hall. He was then invited to headline Glastonbury’s Jazz World Stage on June 25th and also to lead a show of solidarity with the Make Poverty History Campaign with Bob Geldof. On July 2nd Baaba made a speech in support of Make Poverty History in Edinburgh, and addressed the rally in advance of the G8 Summit at Gleneagles.

By now an honorary griot, Baaba says, “It strengthens my determination to work harder to contribute more to improving the living conditions of disadvantaged people of the African continent, especially young people, whose future is seriously threatened by illiteracy, poverty and HIV/AIDS. When I am talking about Africa, it is about how Africa will grow into the new millennium.”

Discography:

Passion – Sources (Real World Records, 1989)
Djam Leelii, with Mansour Seck (Mango Records, 1989)
Baayo, with Mansour Seck (Mango Records, 1991)
Lam Toro (Mango Records, 1992)
Wango (Syllart, 1994)
Firin’ in Fouta (Mango Records, 1994)
Gorel (4th & Broadway, 1995)
Taara (Melodie, 1997)
Nomad Soul (Import, 1998)
Djam Leelii: The Adventurers (Yoff Productions, 1998)
Jombaajo (Sonodisc, 2000)
Missing You – Mi Yeewnii (Palm, 2001)
The Best of the Early Years, compilation (Wrasse, 2003)
Palm World Voices: Baaba Maal, compilation (Palm, 2005)
On The Road (Palm, 2008)
Television (Palm, 2009)
The Traveller (Palm / Marathon Artists, 2016)

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.
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