This retrospective of Baaba Maal's career was sent by Alistair Wentworth.
In 1984 Baaba returned home because his mother had died. He decided to stay. The following year, he created Daande Lenol (The Voice of the people), a group of nine musicians with, of course, Mansour Seck and Mbassou Niang. Baaba Maal tried to develop music close to his roots while at the same time injecting more modern sounds, with instruments such as drums, electric guitar or keyboards alongside the kora or the tama. He sang mostly in Toucouleur language and fully intended to pass on messages, thus adding a political flavour to his work. He soon brought out their first cassette.
While he was well known in Toucouleur circles, Baaba Maal and his group only became known to the Senegal public in general when they gave a concert at the Daniel Sorano theatre in Dakar in February 1986. The concert was under the spell of the singer, who was a true leader. His stage presence was impressive, and the concert was broadcast by national television, which helped promote the group.
The following year, he gave a series of concerts in Europe, particularly at the Chapelle des Lombards in Paris. His cassette "Wango" came out in Senegal in 1988. The song "Demgalam" (my language) was about minorities and their right to keep their cultural identity. It identified more precisely with the position of the black, especially the Toucouleur-speaking population, not the moors, in Mauritania, bringing down the wrath of the authorities on his head. Indeed, the artist's cassettes and records were destroyed in Mauritania.
Almost simultaneously, an English producer, Chris Blackwell of Island Records, found the tapes of "Djam Leeli". He signed Baaba Maal on his world music label Mango.
It was in fact his concerts at the New Morning club in Paris in November 89 and his Dutch tour that launched Baaba's career in Europe. He also sang on the Peter Gabriel album "Passion", for Peter Gabriel is a specialist in discovering new talent. In 1990, he brought out "Taara", just before bringing out the famous album "Baayo" in 1991, on the Mango label. Although the record was produced in London with all the tools of high recording technology, it was because the music was to be completely pure, back to roots, with the "yela", the Toucouleur rhythm associated with grinding the grain in a traditional society, taking pride of place alongside the singer's swooping voice. This record had considerable success in Europe, especially in England. He took part in the Womad in London, and sang in the concert for Nelson Mandela in Dakar, alongside Peter Gabriel, Youssou N'Dour and Super Diamono.
"Lam Toro" is the groovier follow-up of "Baayo". The album came out in 93 and was followed by a remix concocted by Simon Booth and Macka B. These dance pieces are not everybody's taste, some feeling that the music has been travestied. In any case, like his compatriot Youssou N'dour, Baaba Maal recorded cassettes for the local market in between the big European productions: "Yélé" in 93, and "Tono" and "Tiim Timol" in 94.
Baaba Maal was fighting on every front, with the support of Chris Blackwell, of course, defending his Senegal discovery in the best possible way. In 1994, there was a new album, "Firin'In Fouta" recorded in Dakar in the famous Studio 2000, London, and in Peter Gabriel's studios in Bath. Several famous western musicians came to accompany Baaba Maal on this record: Jah Wobble (Bass guitar) David Bothrill (keyboards) and Michael Brook (guitar). "African Woman" is the star track on this album. It was followed by an acoustic tour, with a concert at the Elysée Montmartre in Paris in November. After "Africa Fete" concerts in the United States in June 1995, Baaba celebrated the tenth anniversary of Daande Lenol in Dakar in October, before an audience mainly composed of Haalpulaar people. But the big event of the autumn was Baaba Maal's return to Mauritania for a special concert in Nouakchott on October 19 and 20. The Toucouleur singer had not performed there for eight years.
Baaba Maal was nominated for a Grammy Award in the "World Music" category in February 1996. This equivalent of the Oscars for music went to the group Deep Forest in the end, with Baaba Maal coming second. Although he did not win the award, he was still recognised as one of the greatest in his category. In July of the same year, he sang the first half of the famous guitarist Carlos Santana's concert at Wembley Stadium, England, with Daande Lenol. This concert was one in the European tour which went to Holland, Portugal, Belgium, Denmark and Germany. In September he performed in South Africa on the occasion of the "Arts Alive International" festival in Johannesburg. Early the following year, he undertook a big tour with forty concerts in North America, on the wave of interest in Senegal music from Youssou N'dour to Ismaël Lô, and especially the rap group Positive Black Soul.
Two new cassettes, "Aïwa" and "Souvenirs" came out in Senegal at the end of 96. Here again, the "King of Yela" as some call him, seemed to want to satisfy lovers of tradition at the same time as partisans of modernism and dance spirit.
In 1998 the new CD, "Nomad Soul" came out under Chris Blackwell's new label, Palm Pictures. The album title refers to the nomadic roots of his people and the traveller's spirit permeating Baaba Maal's work. The Jamaican musicians Luciano and Robbie Shakespeare, and the producers Simon Emmerson, Brian Eno, Jon Hassel and Howie B. are also on the prestigious credits of this record. The inseparable Mansour Seck on guitar, Alioune Diouf on percussion, Hilaire Chaby on the synthesiser, and Assane Ndoye Cissé, the Daande Lenol guitarist, are also present. The CD opens to "Souka Nayo", the hymn to the Peule woman, to a backing of Irish choirs.
While travelling around the world, Baaba Maal released an album entitled "Live at the Royal Festival Hall" recorded in 1999. He then came to a halt and settled in Senegal for a while, among his family and friends. Using his influence there, he became very active outside the musical world, and he got involved in several agriculture and hotel ventures. He also endeavoured to draw Western people's attention to the ravages caused by AIDS in his country. Along with his fellow citizen, Youssou N'Dour, Baaba Maal belongs to a tradition of Senegalese musicians who use their worldwide fame to help their country.
Back to his roots
In 2001, the Senegalese artist went back to the studio for his new album, "Missing You" ("Mi Yeewi"). The latter was mostly recorded in Mnunk, a small village near Dakar, which inspired Baaba Maal a come back to traditional Senegalese sounds. Indeed, a lot of Mnunk's background sounds, such as children and animal cries, were integrated in order to reflect the reality of the artist's original environment. However, it is in London's well-known studios of Real World and Abbey Road that Baaba Maal chose to give "Missing You" the finishing touch. He followed up with the album promotion in spring when he gave a series of acoustic concerts.