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Baaba Maal The Best Of The Early Years Review

Compilation. Released 2003.  

BBC Review

Traditional Senegalese music is what he plays. Uniquely.

John Armstrong 2003

...or, more accurately, the best of the post Island Records years, because none of Baaba Maal's early 80s Senegalese cassette-only material is here. But what the heck, it's still better than almost all the competition rolled into one.

Remember the majestic 'Yero Mama'? or the princely original version of'African Woman', now remixed out of our collective consciousness? Or the song that gave his band their name (or vice versa) 'Dande Lenol'? Well, they're all here, and you'd be wise to snap up this careful compilation even if you do have the original three or four albums from which its culled.

Baaba's childhood in a small fishing village showed little promise of his musical future until he persuaded the powers that be to allow him to call the worshippers to the mosque each day. His musician mother encouraged him to follow a career in music and, after moving to Dakar and winning a scholarship he joined a 70-piece orchestra, Asly Fouta.

After touring West Africa with his guitarist friend Mansour Seck, the two decamped to Paris and the Conservatoire des Beaux Arts, returning to Senegal with a mass of new ideas for incorporating pop and reggae with traditional Senegalese music. Enter the ubiquitous Afro-Parisian producer Ibrahim Sylla, who launched Baaba Maal onto an international stage with the 1988 album Wango.

The main feature of all Baaba Maal's music both then and now, is a strict adherence to a Senegalese feel, no matter what technology is used to ease its passage. Baaba is unwavering loyal to Senegalese culture. When interviewed, he never defers to the sort of preening self-promotion that some African artists resort to: when asked about his influences, he doesn't say John Coltrane, or Otis Redding or The Beatles, as many do. He replies: traditional Senegalese music.

And traditional Senegalese music is certainly what he plays. Uniquely.

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