Baaba Maal, A Voice of Inspiration

Baaba Maal was born in Podor, Senegal in 1953 into the fisherman’s caste.  In West African culture, tradition dictates that the ancient griot caste (musicians) must produce the singers and storytellers.  From early on in his life, Baaba disregarded this and has become a huge International World music star.

Despite his parents’ insistence that he become a lawyer, he grew up surrounded by music, absorbing both the traditional sounds of the region as well as American R&B and soul, later discovering jazz, blues and reggae.  While still a teenager, Baaba moved to Dakar, joining the 70 piece orchestra Asly Fouta and teaming with his guitarist friend Mansour Seck to form the group Lasli Fouta.  During the early 1980s, the duo also spent several years in Paris, where they recorded the 1984 album Djam Leelii, one of my favorite CD’s of all time (

Upon returning to Senegal, Maal formed the group Daande Lenol – literally, “The Voice of the Race” – and began honing a highly distinctive sound fusing traditional African music with elements of pop and reggae.  In 1988 he issued the LP Wango, the first in a series of highly successful albums which also included 1991’s Baayo, 1992’s Lam Toro and 1994’s Firin’ in Fouta.  In 1998, Baaba released Nomad Soul (, another classic CD; one of my favorites and the first recording on Chris Blackwell’s new Palm Pictures label.

He put out a few more CD’s and recently a new one, Television, which I will post a review of tomorrow.

Baaba Maal is both one of my favorite musicians as well as one of the finest people I know.  Not only is he a superstar in his native Senegal and a spiritual pop singer, he is on a mission to bridge the cultural divide between Africa and the rest of the world.  Aside from being a remarkable musician, Baaba is a socially conscious individual and represents the United Nations Development Program as a spokesman on the issue of HIV/Aids in Africa.  He is an articulate spokesperson for Africa and talks candidly about the countries problems and the notion that African’s can no longer wait for solutions from outside nations, but rather that African solutions need to be found in order to resolve the situations as they are now.

I want to share with you a touching and inspiring clip I found online.  Recorded in 2005, this clip shows Nelson Mandela and a group of performers and entertainers including: The Corrs, Michael Stipe and Beverly Knight.  Nelson Mandela made a simple request for one of them to sing a song… watch the look of terror that spreads across their faces only to be relieved once Baaba steps up to the plate and flexes his vocals.  Afterwards, Michael Stipe is quoted as saying “Baaba Maal opened his mouth and beautiful pearls and lilies and songbirds came flying out.  It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.”

Here are two of my favorite songs of all time; you will notice, completely different from the sound and song he creates in his Television album. Baaba is truly an artist! African Woman and Yela are both great songs with accompanying videos that will have you dancing to the warm beats. Enjoy!

African Woman