At 69 Baaba Maal looks like a man in his 40s. He’s aged incredibly well. As has his music. When I listen to his music, I find it hard to place where, and when, it was recorded. I’m not saying all his music is timeless, but if you told me, it was released this year, last year, 20 years ago I’d believe you. Since 1989 Maal has been releasing album after album, about 15 in total, that build on his Senegalese roots, but add Western sounds, and vibes, to create something totally his own.
On his latest album ‘Being’ he delivers something that surpasses his previous releases. ‘Freak Out’ lives up to its name. The melodies are hypnotic Maal’s vocals are sublime. They rise, and fall, gracefully, but Maal is also able to bellow when needed. But Maal isn’t alone. The Very Best are here too. Their inclusion really elevates the track. Their harmonies are exquisite and when coupled with Maal’s vocals the ‘Freak Out’ becomes the first standout track on the album. ‘Ndungu Ruumi’ features some savage bass and effects on his vocals at wouldn’t be out of place on a more avant-garde album. During sections of ‘Ndungu Ruumi’ everything rattles. This is either because my speakers aren’t the best quality, or the volume is too loud, but rattle it does. It shakes me, momentary, out of my trance and back in the real world. ‘Agreement’ slows things down a bit, but mesmeric nature of the music is there. A simple riff is effectively what everything is built on. As the riff progresses it takes on a windup motif. This adds more mesmeric vibes.
The polyrhythms on ‘Booboyillo’ are worth the price of admission alone. They turn and skew constantly and there are hints of drill to them. Then under that is another hypnotic riff. Its these riffs that really underpin Maal’s majestic vocals. They sound so simple but devastating. And this is the charm of ‘Being’. It sounds so simple but incredible complex at the same time.
‘Being’ is the most enjoyable album Maal has released to date. Take ‘Yerimayo Celebration’ for example. When the band get in the groove, and Maal’s vocals are soaring, its one of the best things I’ve heard all year. You get lost in the music and everything else fades into insignificance. Isn’t that the point of music? To give you an enjoyable experience? To make you lose yourself. To entertain you? Well, it is for me and ‘Being’ just does it.
Words: Nick Roseblade