Baaba Maal’s [BA-ba Marl] daring and dazzling new album, Being, is out now.
The record is a powerful continuation of his pioneering, transcendent work over the last forty years, blending the ancient and the modern, the acoustic and the electronic. Extending his productive partnership with producer and multi-instrumentalist Johan Karlberg (Self Esteem, The Very Best, Santigold), his first album since 2016’s The Traveller, Being was recorded in Brooklyn, London and Senegal and confirms Maal as one of the most uniquely compelling and constantly surprising musicians in the world.
Being is a collection of songs that sees Baaba calling to both honor tradition and deal with new technology as we face up to a rapidly changing and challenging world. Featuring regular collaborators including Cheikh Ndoye on bass ngoni and Momadou Sarr on percussion, it is a glorious, positive percussion-heavy celebration of music and how in troubled times it can open the mind and hearts and fight cynicism and chaos.
Experiences before, during and after the pandemic coalesced into Being, an album about being from Africa, being a songwriter, being a romantic, being a realist, being wary, being online, being at the mercy of the elements, being caught between two worlds, being on your way somewhere, being in love with rivers, and ultimately about being from his home town Podor while being connected through song and dance to an always turbulent and shifting world.
Mixing up signs of a new Africa, there is a welcome reunion with The Very Best’s singer Esau Mwamwaya on “Freak Out” and appearances from exciting new singer Rougi on “Boboyillo” and Mauritanian rapper General Paco Lenol on “Nbedo Wella.”
“However far I travel, whatever direction, I will always return home,” Baaba says. “It is the nomadic nature. To wander, but to return home, eventually. Home is where you start from, where you begin to learn what really matters, and home is where you finish. Podor is the perfect place for me when I need some time to think, to see my music with a fresh eye, to surprise it, snare it, catch it unawares as if coming across it for the first time.”
Baaba Maal has followed his music as it traveled the world, spreading word of an energetic, idealistic Africa - from his young travels around West Africa performing songs with mentor Mansour Seck, to the Paris conservatoire where he studied musical theory, and ultimately across the globe. He has collaborated with John Leckie, Brian Eno, Damon Albarn’s Africa Express and Mumford & Sons. He has worked on movie soundtracks for The Last Temptation of Christ and Black Hawk Down and more recently become the voice of Wakanda for the Black Panther films, helping soundtrack composer Ludwig Goransson create the film's exhilarating musical soundscape.
“I could bring my Africa to this other, abstract Africa, and both places collided together beautifully,” he says of Black Panther, “I brought this mythical Africa back to Podor, extending my reality, my hometown, and my music. I didn’t know whether I would make another album after The Traveller, but I did know my thinking about music was still changing. And once more something stirred inside me at home in Podor. I found myself once again. It was time for a new album.”
The jams, loops and beats passed back and forth between Maal and Karlberg, generate their own character and atmosphere, reflecting Maal’s need to continually go forward with his music. As always, there was no deadline. Songs were finished when they were finished, emerging out of a combination of fast and slow work. There were intense improvisational studio sessions in Brooklyn, Podor and London where things moved quickly and songs took shape over a few days. After these energetic bursts of activity, the singer and producer took time to process their work, and songs would reveal themselves over many months. They would sometimes be recorded by the ocean, in the open air, and the sound of crickets, dogs, donkeys, birds, traffic, rain, people talking nearby would become part of Baaba’s demand for more percussion, and then for more percussion to be added to even more percussion.
“Always in my life, but especially in the last few years, during the pandemic, and while this album was becoming itself, I discovered the most important thing is just to be. To deal with the world as it is by simply being what I am meant to be. And that is to be a musician finding ways to save the elements of the world that can make it such a beautiful planet and using music and good thinking to fight those forces that wish to destroy it. However dark things become, it’s about being true to yourself. That’s where you can find the light.”
Being - released March 31, 2023 on Marathon Artists
Freak Out (featuring The Very Best)
Boboyillo (featuring Rougi)
Mbeda Wella (featuring Paco Lenol)