Making African music the new way
Senegal is one of the most musically fertile of African countries, and Baaba Maal one of its greatest ambassadors. Charles de Ledesma puts the master in Context.
It hasn‘t been all plain sailing for Senegal‘s Fulani Ambassador. Baaba Maal. on his journey to the top of the African — and world — music scene. Rising up during the period when interest in world music was conspicuously sliding off. Maal had consistently to bring it home that Senegalese music was much more than Youssou N'Dour‘s melodic mint/(Lt fusion of dense rhythms and vocal dexterity. Along the way. he‘s also put a certain number of preconceptions about African music to rest. His music was not going to lose out on the fantastically creative processes at work in global electronic dance music. and his new release. Firin In I’num. is sure testimony to that. For Maal. fusion-based music is the way forward for Africa, and yet the old will always counterbalance and invigorate the new.
Coming from the dry. open interior of the north of Senegal. close to the Mauritanian border. Maal has always had a number of secrets up his sleeve. The rhythms ofthe Fouta district are highly distinct —
Baaba Maal: the future of African fusion
more over-arehingly appealing than the crowded. choppy majesty of the Darker-driven mIm/ux of Ismael Lo and Youssou N'Dour. The language Maal spoke. Fulani. is a sweeter tongue. and his voice . . . well. it was the voice of the Fouta cattle boy. the sound which would echo across kilometres. with its rich. piercing cadences alerting the ears of villager. nomad and cows alike.
A decade after he was first ‘discovered' by the African music enthusiasts in London who would later form Mango Records. Maal has risen in stature. and with his third British release. I’t'rin In I’num. has at last earned his rightful place in the big league of 90s African artists. with N‘Dour. Khaled and Kidjo. No record released last year in any genre better captured the true essence of modern African music and world music. It is a triumph of strategy ~ the album has been through many layers of composition - and musical innovation. A dizzying range of non-African stylistic elements. including techno-trance and rap. are underpinned by a transcendent bare—boned African spirituality. Each and every song is a tour (lt’ force. Segueing majestic rhythms with musical experimentation. Maal‘s voice and history«drenched lyricism the framework around which all else builds.
I’t'rin In l’nuta. which owes much to inspired production by Simon Emmerson (ex-Working Week). is probably the only African record which sets sensitive and brilliant Western percussive effects alongside an on-location African vibe. Electronic rhythm tracks were first laid down in London. before Emmerson. his technical team and Maal journeyed to Podor. in the district of Fouta. to record a wonderful array of ambient sounds. folk music and other odd bits and pieces. such as 100 women pounding grain. Then. Maal and his band Daande Lenol lleshed out the songs with vocals and instrumentation. the Fouta material was mixed in and even more contributions. like Dakar's rap duo Positive Black Soul and jazz saxophonist Andy Sheppard. added for good measure.
In short. inspiring use oftechnology provided the basic building blocks of the record. and continued to play an integral part in the creative process throughout. nev 'r obscuring or hindering the authenticity ofthe record. like it has done on other world music ‘supergroup‘ collaborations.
As for Maal. he simply is a world-class performer. whether adopting a griot‘s plaintive. hypnotic vocal style. as on the song ‘Ba‘ tgriots are West African praise singers): the racy. rockier approach I} pified on ‘(iorel' or a Latin salsero star's melodic phrasing which characterises the (‘ulmn-stylc (-lmmngu. ‘African \Voman'. (Cuban music was extraordinarily popular in the (ills in Senegal.)
()n stage. Maal's persona is calm. assured. but often reticent. In London last year with his smaller acoustic group. and singing alongside his lifelong friend. the blind griot-guitarist Mansour Seek. Maal appeared lost in thought. until his spine-tingling Fulani vocals burst through on the formi'lable. ‘Njilou'. also from the new release. and apolitical song which chastises nee-colonialism. Maal‘s lyrics explain that self-help and education are the way forward: ‘lle who doesn't build anything in this world will never appear in the book of life.‘
The impending arrival of the full electric band will see Maal more extrovcrt and playful as well as furthering his role as master ofcercmonies. urging the talented musicians around him to take on the world and show us what they're made of.
[hut/n1 .‘lluul plays 'l'lu' Assembly Rooms. hamburg/1 (HI Mon [3.
mm— Glass act
Boys with guitars - I mean, the novelty ' .. should have worn off by now. The .1 image of the schoolboy playing tennis- . ' racket guitar in his bedroom has gone beyond the realms of cliche. Forming a band with your classmates (two of whom can’t play, but their dads have garages to practise in), playing your first gig at 3rd year assembly, the dodgy cover versions. Seen it, heard it - how can anything fresh come from something so tried and tested? Well, who saw Supergrass on ‘The Word’? It’s all round the playground, everyone’s etching their name onto
32 The List 10-23 Feb 1995
= cheque books.
1 Road To Superstardom’.
’ Supergrass: perky punk pep
' their pencil case, the boys all want to 5 Nude Records. They were quickly i grow siders like singer cats. and the ' swamped but resurfaced last year as
( ‘long coats‘, as drummer Danny calls 1 them, are milling about fingering their
Danny starts telling the Supergrass story and it’s so perfect it could have come from the ‘Aspiring Hock Star’s
‘We did our first gig when Gaz was
2 twelve or thirteen and l was about
fifteen. That was in Reading where
5 there was lots of heavy metal bands
l and us playing Cure covers. We got banned from playing at school. We released a single when we were at
; school. I think our schoolwork
i suffered for it.’ Yowsa! Punk rock!
. That was when Gaz and Danny were 3 in The Jennifers, a fey indie band who 3 had to play second fiddle to Suede on
the impossibly exuberant Supergrass, sounding like The Kinks gone all punk, tearing through breathless twenty- minute sets and generally eating Shed Seven for breakfast.
Of all the pretenders to The Buzzcocks’ perky punk pop throne that have emerged in recent times, Supergrass are by far the best. Their singles ‘Caught By The Fuzz’ (mum collecting son from the police station after adolescent drugs bust embarrassment) and ‘Mansize Rooster’ (‘We don’t really know what it’s about’) should be sought out for instant jet-propelled fun pop gratification. It might all be over by Easter but that’s the essence of pop, just like Supergrass. (Fiona Shepherd) Supergrass play King Tut’s, Glasgow on
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Wed 22. A