Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Baaba Maal et Dande Lenöl [extended]

  • Wango [Syllart, 1988] B+
  • Djam Leelii [Mango, 1989] A-
  • 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:

Wango [Syllart, 1988]
The talking drummer dominates three other percussionists on Maal's attempt to forge forward-looking pop from the rhythms of Senegal's Tukulor minority. Tricky, sometimes busy, with Maal's tenor cutting confidently through the crowd, it's closer to rock than soukous--funky sax here, lead guitar there, horn charts everywhere. It's also very much itself. Which gives you some idea of where one tradition-conscious African thinks the future must lie. B+

Baaba Maal and Mansour Seck: Djam Leelii [Mango, 1989]
The most compelling and beautiful of West Africa's ever-increasing stock of folkloric preservations is a 1984 collaboration between two Tukulors, an ex-law student and a blind griot. Brit reviews suggest a cult record on the order of Mystère des Voix Bulgares: "timeless, resilient and dignified," "mesmeric, stately and gently stirring," "gentle, cyclical," "transfix and hypnotise," and oh yes, "on permanent repeat." For postindustrialized listeners, the interplay of recurring guitar patterns and penetrating Afro-Islamic voices adds up to background music with soul, nearly an hour of it on CD--in a quiet mood, we can still the world's sorrow by immersing in it. There's no point denying that it's valid as such. But my pleasure is dimmed slightly by the knowledge that the title track, for instance, is about young Tukulors forced by colonial borders and encroaching drought to seek work far from the roots the music celebrates. Seems a tad exploitative to bend such specifics to my own needs. At the very least I'd welcome a trot. A-

Baaba Maal: Taara [Mélodie, 1990] Dud

Baaba Maal: Lam Toro [Mango, 1993] Neither

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

Baaba Maal: Nomad Soul [Palm Pictures, 1998] Neither

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

Baaba Maal: 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-

Baaba Maal: 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-