Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Baaba Maal

  • Taara [Mélodie, 1990] Dud
  • Lam Toro [Mango, 1993] Neither
  • Firin' in Fouta [Mango, 1994] **
  • Nomad Soul [Palm Pictures, 1998] Neither
  • Jombaajo [Sonodisc, 1999] ***
  • Live at Royal Festival Hall [Palm Pictures, 1999] A-
  • Missing You . . . Mi Yeewnii [Palm, 2001] A-

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Taara [Mélodie, 1990] Dud

Lam Toro [Mango, 1993] Neither

Firin' in Fouta [Mango, 1994]
so intensely beautiful you can hear through the instruments from the right angle ("Sama Duniya," "Swing Yela") **

Nomad Soul [Palm Pictures, 1998] Neither

Jombaajo [Sonodisc, 1999]
Cut circa 1990, unreleased because it seemed too loose, and better for it ("Baydikacce," "Farma"). ***

Live at Royal Festival Hall [Palm Pictures, 1999]
"My voice was always very loud but very thin," so this border Tukolor bulked up his God-given instrument with the same conscious discipline that enabled him to attend law school and penetrate Wolof Dakar. But as with so many ambitious young men from the provinces, there's always been an awkwardness about him, and his Chris Blackwell-backed attempts to follow Youssou N'Dour and Salif Keita into the so-called world music market have been cluttered with horns, stabs in the dark, and invited guests. The shows have varied, too, but this four-cuts-in-40-minutes EP is the heart of a good one. It's got a montuno-driven salsa. It's got reggae universalist Ernest Ranglin in Tukolor drag. And everywhere it's got tamas wrangling into the night. A-

Missing You . . . Mi Yeewnii [Palm, 2001]
"Recorded after dark in the village of Nbunk, Senegal" with "guidance" from old postpunk hand John Leckie, this isn't as ecstatic as 1984's folkloric Djam Leelii or 1999's jamming Live at the Royal Festival Hall. But like both it avoids the intelligent compromises with which Maal has attracted some non-African listeners and disoriented others, and the concept works. Ambient sounds, traditional tunes, modern rhythms, choruses of women, working bandmates, and old colleagues all sound rooted to a place. The fairest recording ever of all the music this thwarted visionary has in him. Ecstasy can wait. A-