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International Reflective Writing


Baaba Maal: Mixing Music with Memories

Baaba Maal: Tales from the Sahel by Wallace Baine

One of the most popular musicians to ever come out of West Africa, singer and songwriter Baaba Maal could easily keep his audiences happy by just playing music. But, in his latest tour across the United States, the Senegal-born singer has decided to do something a bit more ambitious.

In a new production, "Tales from the Sahel: An Evening with Baaba Maal," Maal brings more than music. Maal is bringing with him journalist Chris Salewicz and the two men will put all that music in context with a conversation that touches on everything from Maal's upbringing as the son of a fisherman to the socio-cultural trends that have shaped the Sahel region of northern Africa.

"This is how we do it in Africa," said Maal, 57, who first emerged on the international scene in the mid 1980s by blending Western pop and reggae with the indigenous rhythms of his home country. "We play the music, and we mix it with telling our stories, our history, our experiences. That's part of our tradition."

Maal is widely credited as a music innovator, borrowing rhythms and textures from a wide variety of genres from blues to funk and even Celtic. He famously collaborated with groundbreaking producer Brian Eno on the 1998 release "Nomad Soul," then later returned to a pure African sound in 2000's "Missing You." On his most recent recording, 2009's "Television," Maal finds himself in collaboration with the New York electronica group the Brazilian Girls.

Other than his status as a Senegalese superstar, Maal has developed a reputation as a humanitarian activist with his work with the United Nations, including combatting the spread of AIDS, creating opportunities for young people and enhancing the role of women in Africa.

The "Sahel" concerts will include Maal's longtime friend and collaborator percussionist Mamadou Sarr, as well as multi-instrumentalist Jim Palmer. Maal said that the point of the show is to perform songs that enhance and illustrate the conversation he'll have about Africa with the journalist Salewicz.

"People want to understand what's behind the music," said Maal. "They want to understand where the songs come from and it's the stories where the real magic comes from."

Adapted from the Santa Cruz Sentinel;



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