This Baaba Maal article was written by Lucas Oakeley, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Ben Kendall.
At 62 years old, Baaba Maal remains to this day to be Senegal’s most prominent musical son. The sheer longevity of Maal’s success, and the consistency of his quality over the years, is almost unheard of; with the diverse flavour of his latest album, aptly titled ‘The Traveller’, accentuating the fact that he has seen and heard the world throughout the years. Collaborating with Johan Hugo Karlberg, Baaba Maal’s album is one that truly needs to be heard to appreciate its wonderful strangeness.
Beginning with the thumping drums and anthemic chorus of ‘Fulani Rock’ that refuses to be silenced, Maal brings to life the heartbeat of his album, pulsing ceaselessly in an amalgamation of traditional and electric sounds. ‘Gilli Men’ incorporates rustic guitar with a refreshingly nuanced use of autotune, to provide a sound that is both modern and timeless – an apt metaphor for the album as a whole.
‘One Day’ and ‘Kalaajo’ introduce a slower rhythm to the affair, and allow for the overwhelming power and rang of Maal’s impressive vocals to take control. Reverberating with simple drum accompaniments, these tracks languish in their own simplicity, and allow for Maal to gently glide from one song to the next with the greatest of ease.
‘Lampenda’ follows this reflective tone with an upbeat ambiance, to inspire an immediate sense of wonder and grandeur. It is at this point that one comes to the realisation that Baaba Maal’s music is able to transcend past the boundaries of culture and language, speaking to a more innately human aspect of one’s soul. The title piece of ‘Traveller’ is without a doubt the most triumphant song in this regard, providing a joyous celebration of music that really puts Maal’s range to the test. This song surpasses any need for translation, as its core message still rings clearly throughout, through a concordance of humanity that is guaranteed to get you on your feet.
‘Jam Jam’ is the weakest song of the bunch, as its experimental sound just misses short of being a success. The climactic duo of ‘War’ and ‘Peace’ are equally risky in their change of pace, however the latter two are prosperous in their amalgamation of traditional African beats and English spoken word poetry. Aided by a spoken word layover from UK poet Lemn Sissay, both of these tracks manage to make a didactic political statement and a proclamation for world peace that never comes across as too sanctimonious.
‘The Traveller’ is a Frankenstein’s monster of sound that comes to life through an odd mixture of new and old to speak complete and absolute sense. On paper this should never have worked, yet in practice, Baaba Maal has created a thoroughly enjoyable album that evades placement within any musical genre.
‘The Traveller’ is out on the 15th January via Marathon Artists.
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