Baaba Maal African Soul Revolutionary Review

Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Quality tunes from the time before Maal entered his major label phase.

Martin Longley 2010

This set compacts three of the Senegalese singer's 1980s albums onto a pair of discs, ditching three tracks in the process. This is not a drastic action, though, as Baaba Maal's Wango and Taara records have those same songs in common. So, the overlap has now disappeared, and disc one presents his Jambaajo original in its 10-song entirety. There is also room for a bonus cut, with the acoustic Tabakaly featuring Maal's longtime guitarist sideman (and mentor) Mansour Seck. All in all, this is another crammed collection of tunes from the budget-orientated Nascente label.

These were the days before Maal entered his high-profile Mango/Island Records contract of the 1990s, when his music became technologically aware and began to lure the inhabitants of a different dancefloor. This is not to say that the process hadn't started by the second half of the 1980s. The move from mesmeric acoustic rootsiness to Afropop bounce was already in motion. At this time, Maal was just being discovered outside of Senegal, and these albums existed as holy grail cassettes from the local marketplace.

Jambaajo is the best of the three included here, which is good enough reason for it to inhabit disc one. Most of its songs hold a steady sway at their core, with Maal's galvanising voice vaulting high above the stately string constructions. These loping, cyclic patterns provide the melodic snagging for much of the time. Gradually, track by track, the mix gets denser, the guitars multiply and horns, synths and synth-horns pile up incrementally. The title-track makes an organically warm glide, with Maal's youthful voice sounding strikingly high. Nowadays, he's a touch deeper and more rounded. On these numbers, Maal targets the shivery spine with great precision.

Non-African reviewers might always say this, but a pervasive problem arises each time there's a squeebly synthesiser solo. These were unfortunate enough at the time, but now they're just a decade too late to enjoy any kitsch cachet. At times, the production also sounds a touch tinny. The salvation arrives via Maal's exceptional vocal performances, and the detailed relationships between the string instruments.

On disc two, Wango arti leads off with an infectiously melodic lattice of guitar parts, then Sehil revolves around a punchy horn riff, a momentum that's also powered by a tonally-aware under-arm tama drum. Even as the keyboards continue their parping, and the kick drum becomes increasingly brutal, the actual tunes rise far above such specific details.

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