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Baaba Maal’s New Album: Surfs Between Thematic Continuity and Stylistic Break

Baaba Maal performs at the Barbican Centre on May 30, 2023, in London, England. Robin Little/Redferns via Getty Images.

BY Cheick Sakho

Released on March 31, 2023, “Being”, the new album by Senegalese artist Baaba Maal, has seven tracks that are all or almost all part of a thematic continuity. The topics covered – love, solidarity, loneliness, humility, immigration, the environment, etc. – are both universal and timeless. They fit with each era.

My research focuses on orality, among others. In this article, I review Baaba Maal’s latest album that surfs between thematic continuity and stylistic break.

In this album composed of seven titles, the artist sings his community (the fishermen), invites moderation, restraint and sobriety in speaking, with the explosion of new media which, by freeing speech, amplify the phenomenon and expose us to drifts.

Baaba Maal magnifies the beauty of nature, wintering and the Fulani woman. He also addresses the theme of migration, a tradition well anchored in the north of Senegal where he has been from since the drought of the early 70s. Love, another theme dear to the artist, is also sung.

The artist nicknamed the king of Yeela – poetic and musical genre Fulani – covers many songs from his repertoire. Despite their age, these pieces have not aged a bit. Baaba Maal has just worked here to update these themes to (re)connect them with the issues of the day related to immigration, the environment, climate, etc.

Break in musical style

This album by the artist who recently made an appearance in the American blockbuster “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” marks a break in musical style. Indeed, here, Baaba Maal does not lock himself in the Yeela, a musical style that he has widely popularized and of which he is the standard-bearer but rather opens, as he said recently, to several musical contributions, to several sounds fruit of his meeting with other artists, other peoples, other cultures, inscribing this album in the genre of world music.

The updating of these issues and this openness to other contributions allow the artist, who has marked several generations of music lovers from Senegal, Africa and the world, to arouse the interest of the youngest for his musical work.

Baaba Maal plays Wakanda in Black Panther 2.

Belonging to the universal

Baaba Maal’s music appeals not only to people of his generation but also to the youngest who use his new productions for challenges, their fad in the social network TikTok and “henna time”, a new trend among young girls about to get married, a practice that has a huge success on social networks.

In this album, we note the participation of young artists such as the Senegalese Rougui and the Senegalese-Mauritanian rapper Paco Leñol. Baaba Maal expresses his different identities as an artist and as a citizen of the world in general. Indeed, while reaffirming his cubalagu (the art of being cubballo/fisherman), his pulaagu (the art of being Fulani), his Sene quality and his Africanis, he claims his belonging to the universal. A claim already begun in The traveler (released in 2016) and even well before.

The title of the album, the gerund being shows, moreover, that this identity is not a completed process but that it is a permanent construction. Indeed, identity is built through social contacts. The individual constructs an identity in relation to the other on a dialogical basis. The plural dimension of identity therefore comes into play in the process of transformation of the individual.

Identity can, therefore, be conceived as a social and historical construction. This is how the human, in general, and the artist, in particular, a true globetrotter, who travels the world, remains permeable to all cultural contributions fruit of his peregrinations and becomes, in the long run, a being who is the product of successive additions.

Transmission of orality

In addition, two clips accompany this album. It is about “Ndungu” who, while remaining in the description of the landscape reborn of wintering, superimposes another theme dear to Baaba Maal: emigration. Here, if, with a few expressions, the text has remained substantially the same, the video, for its part, introduces a novelty more in line with current reality.

The Yeri Mayo music video from Baaba Maal’s album Being.

Indeed, in the past, the emigrant sent news and received those of his family through correspondence that could take a long time in the circuit of the Post Office before arriving at destination, in this clip the couple, to cheat his loneliness, exchange with his smartphones, messages that are received instantly.

The clip “Yeri Maayo Celebration” opens with a scene that takes place at the water’s edge recalling the setting of this event, both cultural and economic, called Fiifiire or crocodile hunting. This scene reproduces the context of transmission of African orality. We see the septuagenarian artist standing in front of a little boy who repeats the lyrics of the song without of course his voice being audible.

The man eventually leaves, leaving the child imbued with the values of his community and ready to open up to the world.

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