wed 19/06/2024

Album: Baaba Maal - Being | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Baaba Maal - Being

Album: Baaba Maal - Being

A voice in a million

Baaba Maal, great voice from Senegal

“Yerimayo Celebration”, which opens Baaba Maal’s brilliant and superbly paced new album, sets the tone: it starts in the mists of time, as it were, drawing deep on the minimal soul of traditional West African music: a plucked ngoni, and a haunting voice. The spirits have been summoned.

Then, the song explodes, driven by the rhythmic clatter of the sabar drums, so characteristic of the region, with subtle voice distortions and electronic effects. This is fusion of the ancient and new that works wonderfully.

The song celebrates fishermen, the clan from which Baabal Maal comes, rather than from a long line of griots, who would normally praise the rich and powerful. Many of the songs on this always intense album have a social or political message – that's the way with so much African music – a tradition that was kept alive by spiritual, gospel, soul and rap, as well as the music of Cuba and Brasil. There’s no anger here though, only jubilation. The Senegalese singer is very well-served by Swedish producer Johan Hugo Karlberg, with whom he worked on his previous album The Traveller (2016)  Getting the balance right between the spiritual core of Maal’s song and the potential of electronic creativity is a fine thing, but these two guys do it brilliantly.

“Ndugu Ruumi”, which Maal learned from his mentor the guitarist and singer Mansour Seck, feels like a natural and brilliant return to their classic album Djam Leelii (1984), still one of the masterpieces of recent West African music. But this time around, Maal’s voice is subtly multitracked, the drums thunder with the enhancement of reverb, all of it at the service of the emotional punch at the heart of the song.

Baaba Maal’s voice has a sweet vulnerability that contrasts with his compatriot Youssou N’Dour’s muezzin-like call. They both have divine voices, but there’s a sensitivity about Maal’s that is as touching as it is inspiring. The song "Agreement”, with advice about right behaviour, pulses slowly, propelled by a repeated ngoni riff, with the vocal flying almost supernaturally over it. Hypnotic repetition is indeed one way of getting people to listen. Here it’s never monotonous, pulling you in. There is the same meditative circular feel to the magical song “Casamance Nights” – with the sound of insects in the deep African night.

There’s something delightfully contemporary, as well as entrancingly traditional about the vocals from the young singer Rougi, a daughter of fishermen, whom Maal discovered on social media. The treatment of her voice on the song “Boboyillo” is so delicate as to be barely noticeable, and as with the rest of the album, the cutting-edge technology is at the service of deep soul.

Baaba Maal’s voice has a sweet vulnerability


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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