Meet Baaba Maal

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October 1, 2010 – I was barely stronger than the lady sitting in front of me. I only just managed to keep the well of emotion (tears) inside, courtesy of Senegalese singer Baaba Maal.

His strong quiet voice spoke of stories from the village, simple messages of life that everyone seems to have forgotten.

At a concert at the Kenya National Museum on Tuesday night, Baaba Maal, courtesy of the BBC World Service Trust performed for a selected group of people.

Journalists and friends of development were invited to chat with Baaba Maal before and after the concert, including Capital Lifestyle.

This genre of music you sing, what is it called back home?

“I like to call it just music, but the youth at home call it Yela.”

Do you sing mostly composed music or do you free-style as well?

“You cannot be a successful musician if you do not respond to the audience. You can prepare songs for a concert, but anything can happen. You can feel the need to sing on in a certain way, create a new tune, to meet with the audience. But for this concert I had prepared four songs.”

You are very vocal on Africa and how it needs to emerge from poverty, how do you contribute to development on a solo level back home?

“We organise concerts there with my band, it’s called Voice of the People. We go to different places performing and the money collected is used to build schools or other community amenities in whichever locality we are performing at. This way, even youth can see what is happening and take part.”

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You’re wearing an earring. Does it contradict with the tradition in your country?

He was whisked away by the organisers before he could answer that…

Baaba Maal was taught how to sing by his parents. His mother especially used to say that music has a more lasting effect when it is sung to be shared.

“It wasn’t easy for me to sing. I was a fisherman and fishermen don’t sing. But I got support… Africa has a rare energy and we need to show the world this picture rather than all the stories on war and poverty. Yes they are there, but we have other stories too.”

He adds that for anything to happen, the future must be secure, and that future was in the youth and in women.

“Women and youth are most in touch with what is happening on the ground. If we are to have any real change, they must be involved in leadership. Men are out of touch with so many things, and its youth and women who actually come together to create solutions and make a difference, not men. I am a man, I know.”

Baaba Maal was chosen to be an ambassador for development by the United Nations, a role he embraces easily and passionately.

He sang songs of love, life and education – normal songs that displayed the history of unity within the African family unit. He was using an acoustic guitar and was accompanied by a young man handling the percussion.

He played three drums; one he sat on and two in front of him. Only one of those had a cow hide at the top. One was a calabash sitting on a speaker-like box like a hat… You have to see it to believe it. Fantastic music. Extreme talent. Worthy cause.

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