- by Rob Taylor Rating:8 Release Date:2016-01-17 Label: Marathon Artists
Baaba Maal’s majestic voice soars over his music like a wedge-tailed eagle over its prey, graceful but dominant and full of intent. Like his countryman, Youssou N’Dour, the upper reaches of his vocals seem heaven-bound, and now even in his 60s it still retains a commanding timbre.
I was introduced to Maal via his collaboration with Peter Gabriel on Passion [Sources], a companion piece to Gabriel’s soundtrack to Martin Scorcese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. Passion [Sources] revealed the exotic source material to the soundtrack, and Maal’s formidable voice appeared on ‘Call to Prayer’. He later thrived on the western scene due to the spirited advocacy of Gabriel, and Chris Blackwell of Island Records and Palm Pictures.
Whilst Maal has generally chosen his collaborations well, you might think that two decades of western influence might have tarnished his individual Senegalese voice, or lead to excursions far removed from the authentic soul or provenance of his homeland. The very title of Maal’s latest work however testifies to the fact that Maal draws inspiration from many sources. The Traveller is ostensibly though an African album. The lovely meditation ‘One Day’ recalls the Ugandan singer, Geoffrey Oryema’s beautiful ‘Makombo’ from his 1990 album, Exile.
Album opener, ‘Fulani Rock’ is an afrobeat invitation to dance, reminding us that the adoption of the afrobeat form in modern psychedelic music, as wonderful a bastardisation as it is, has one essential ingredient perhaps necessarily omitted from it, and that is the funkiness. Bands like Tinariwen and Terakaft have it, and it is sometimes referred to as Saharan or Desert blues, an eastern amalgam of traditional styles with a hint of the influence of the old african-american blues greats, maybe the inculcation of the imperial French.
Maal has additionally never been shy of incorporating western electronic elements.
The Traveller is never at constant tempo, like a true journey, it ebbs and flows. If you’ve ever been to a dance party and heard those remarks from fellow revellers about enjoying the journey that the DJ ‘is taking us on’, Maal takes you on a similarly well-mapped journey on The Traveller. Perhaps it’s the inherent positivity that courses through its veins, its semi-religiosity. Maybe it’s the omnipresent beat structure, the lovely counterpoint of those twangy guitars, but mostly, like what a child might hear on the cusp of innocent sleep, I think it’s the fairytale dulcet tones of Maal’s mellifluous voice.
If there’s a misstep on The Traveller, it’s the meandering poetry of Lemn Sissay on ‘War’ where he raps directionlessly, and ‘Peace’ in which cynical ruminations are contra-indicated by Maal’s calming folk instrumental reverie.
First track didn't catch me, but 'Gilli Men' is good and wow, 'One Day' is gorgeous. Good stuff.
It's true, the album is not uniformly excellent, but I quite like Fulani Rock, and I agree 'One Day' is superb. Cheers Joseph.