Baaba Maal

Today is Baaba Maal’s birthday and I want to share  this:

Two years ago, when we lived downtown, I saw a poster on the street on my way to choir practice, I couldn’t believe my eyes, Baaba Maal was coming to my small city!

And I just knew we had to go to his concert.

I told my friend Guadalupe about it and guess what she did?

Guadalupe is a writer and a reporter, so she managed to get an interview with him and I was her translator and got to ask all the questions! (and also got to edit the interview here and there, so she made me share credits with her :)

Plus of course meet him after the concert and I asked him for my favorite song’s original lyrics (which are almost impossible to get online) And he wrote them down for me on my notebook.

I was SO thrilled about it! I just wanted her not to miss out on listening to his music.

I can’t tell you how happy I am to have met him!

Baaba Maal

That little bird he’s holding with his left hand was my present to him during the concert :D

My favorite song of his is Mariama, I almost named my youngest daughter after it:

The next video was made using the pictures we took at the concert and the music I used was sent to me by a Senegalese friend named Aboubacry Gueye,

he taught me a lot of things about the Senegalese culture and their language (Pulaar)

and we’d chat for hours about Baaba Maal’s lyrics, which I couldn’t understand, because I don’t speak Pulaar, but I did learn enough from him to come

up with a phrase: Baaba Maal kanguél foutankobé!  It means:

Baaba Maal is the gold of the Foutas (his people)

Aboubacry had to correct some grammar, and he told me he will write a letter to Baaba Maal someday and will use that phrase in it :D

(I hope he doesn’t mind me using it too)

 The interview is in Spanish, because it was intended to be published locally, the audio is in English, I so wish I could use it but it’s on a little tape that I don’t have a player for,

however I did translate it back to English for this post:

Baaba Maal, The gold of the Foutas

“Listen to my voice/echoing through the night/speaking with the universe/bringing advise to humankind. /My friend, respect your word/keep your dignity”.

Olel The Echoe

In ancient times it was believed everywhere that even in the stones there were living souls that could be dominated through music. It was also thought that this was a feminine art because it attracts like women do and, like them, they have the power to make repressed melancholy and hidden nostalgias be reborn within the soul. Singing has accompanied men throughout the centuries, from the minstrels to the singers have resorted to music to sensitize and Baaba Maal, Senegalese singer and guitar player, knows that.

He was born in Podor, a town on the banks of the Senegal River. From childhood he felt a great passion for music and singing, he states that his father had the honor of calling to prayer at the mosque. His mother wrote songs and it was she who taught him, confident that he was born with primitive magic that would open him up to the light, to fight not to submit to the ancient custom. Mansour Seck, his childhood friend was a key part for him to devote himself to music and even today is who validates him within that tradition by his constant presence.

Since that time, he turned his eyes to other places, other countries to strengthen ties, because as he says, we are all sons of the same mother. Baaba Maal’s songs are nostalgic but at the same time hopeful, his voice draws huge trees of furious red as blood; bursts of light and whispering prayers that rise both languid and sensual, from their instruments emerge spirits that take over everything and everyone to produce a catharsis in a few moments, or as he explains in this interview:

The instruments are a basic part of this music, because they are built for African music in terms of tradition.

Do you think of your music as commercial or alternative?

‘I think now, for example the last album and the 2 previous albums, are more commercial, but when we are going to record thinking of doing something commercial, we think of folk music, African music, which is very close to the people and we leave the business to the company that records it to market it. All we do is to create a bridge.

Do you think now, as in the beginning of your career, that music is a way to raise awareness?

-In Africa, of course, because we come to  know our history, education, our responsibility to society through music. Everything we know comes from the music because in Africa we don’t have books, Everything is in the songs, in the music. Everyone learns something from the music. Even today, this is the role of music in Africa.

Could you tell us a little bit about the Floating Carnival you did in Senegal?

I wanted to organize a place to listen to music, not just mine. I did a festival called “River Blues”.  (Blues du Fleuve)

Do you think there is a social commitment among singers?

-You know, when you’re a singer and you have the opportunity to speak, everyone listens. It’s a great opportunity to use your voice to talk about important things in life, because people can dance to your music, they can buy it, but when they listen to it they want to know what you’re saying. So, really, it should help people understand important things in life.

How does it feel to see the people dancing, singing and enjoying your music?

-I feel very happy to be able to share my music with others. Seeing them feel attracted means that you’ve accomplished something. That is more important than the money you get from a concert. It is much stronger and you feel good inside.

The ocean is a life impulse, what does it represent to you as a son of fishermen?

-It all starts with the water you know? and water is the source of life. The ocean is common to all people. In Senegal and in the Caribbean coast or in Latin America, when you stand near the water, you can feel what someone on the other side is feeling.

The water draws volutes, is that what you want to convey with your music?

-Oh yeah, I want my music and our music to be a source of life for people. Sometimes the world is very difficult, but music gives hope and light to the people. If you can feel … (at that time there was a pause in the dressing room because a glass mirror broke and everyone broke out in laughter). Baaba Maal continued: Even in Africa, when a glass breaks, people laugh. It is a good omen.

Do you find similarities between Mexico and Africa?

-I would say between Africa and Mexico in general, Africa and Latin America to me are the same because we have ancient histories and culture and tradition are very internalized among people. I see that in your ceremonies all of your music is very close to the people, is more social than commercial. And just as in Africa I know that in Mexico and some Latin American countries there have been many problems in their history but they come together in solidarity. I think that when Africa and Latin America are bonded closely, something very strong could happen.

Thus concluded the interview with Baaba Maal, a singer that through his music, wants to change the face of the world to completely redo it. To create silence with words.

Baaba Maal won an art scholarship to study classical African (Traditional) music in Dakar.

He studied at the Conservatoire des Beaux Arts in Paris where he lived for some years with Mansour Seck, his childhood friend who belongs to the caste of the Griot (musicians).

In 2009 he attended the Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen as ambassador of the African initiative of climate change negotiations.

He is a 46664 Project’s ambassador awareness, a campaign on AIDS by Nelson Mandela.

He’s also one of the performers of the theme of the South African World Cup  “8 goals for Africa”, a campaign based on a song in the program of the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations (which are 8 goals agreed internationally to reduce poverty, hunger, maternal and child deaths by 2015 among other things).

He took part in the project “One Giant Leap“. His voice can be heard on Dunya Salam and Bushes.

He has 2 soundtracks in the movie Black Hawk Down: Still and Hunger.

His song “International” is used as background in the game of the FIFA World Cup 2010.

He has recorded 9 albums and has a CD with a compilation of his hits. His most recent album (at the time of this interview) is Television, it’s in the top 10 of National Geographic music 2009.

Baaba Maal | 2013 | Uncategorized


  1. Utkarsha
    Posted June 19, 2013 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Hey, great post! Thanks for all the info about this wonderful artist. Came across this post as I was looking for the lyrics for his songs. Is there any way of knowing the lyrics translation for ‘Hunger’ and ‘Still’ from Black Hawk Down?? I have really looked everywhere! Please help!

  2. aboubacry gueye
    Posted June 20, 2013 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    I am very glad that you did
    long life to you and your family

    • Posted June 20, 2013 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

      So happy to see you here! :D
      Thank you for your kind words,
      my best wishes to you and your family as well.

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