Baaba Maal: the Voice of the People
This year, the Senegalese music icon Baaba Maal and his band ‘Daande Lenol’ (the voice of the people) celebrate their 35th anniversary with a series of international concerts. On December 28th, Baaba Maal will be among the headliners of the AfriCourage event in Banjul, The Gambia. This event is part of the Open Mic Festival, which celebrates the power of music and the strength of indigenous culture.
Baaba Maal: the Voice of the People
Since 1985, Baaba Maal and the band have had a string of hits, including ‘Baayo’ (‘Orphan’), ‘Jahowo’ (‘Traveler’), ‘Mariama’, ‘Taara’, and recently collaborated on the soundtrack of the Grammy-winning movie Black Panther.
Described as a genius and a committed intellectual, Baaba Maal is also known the ‘King of Yela’, the flagship of Fula culture and tradition. After a 35 year-long career, he remains at the peak of the international music scene. His secret: traditional music dipped in western sauce, a powerful voice that calls for celebration but also for action.
Portrait of a planetary artist
It all began in the arid lands of Podor in northern Senegal, where he was born in 1953. Podor is a cultural and cosmopolitan city where all ethnic groups of Senegal and the sub-region lived together, an open-air university for the curious young Baaba.
The son of a former soldier of the colonial army and a mother who is passionate about culture, his social background did not lead him to music – Baaba Maal is from the ‘subalbe’ (fishermen) class and his father was not convinced about his son’s musical ambitions.
But, after hearing his son on the radio singing ‘Taara’ in honor of El Hadj Omar Tall, the great Senegalese religious figure, his father gave in to Baaba’s desire for a music career, with the sole condition that he would always write texts that would benefit those who might listen to him. Thus by a stroke of luck, and against all odds, Baaba Maal became the undisputed master of an art for which he was not predestined.
In addition to his gift for music, Baaba Maal was also an excellent student. He graduated early at the Charles de Gaulle High School in Saint Louis (Senegal), before entering the Dakar Conservatory and then attending the French conservatory in Paris with a scholarship.
Birth of Daande Lenol
After having perfected his art, he returned home to create the orchestra ‘Daande Lenol’ (the voice of the people’) with his loyal friend Mansour Seck.
With his music, Baaba Maal brings together a variety of themes: love, beauty, advocacy for education and development. His music is danceable but also reflects upon serious matters, including womens’ rights with the outstanding song ‘African Woman’ and ‘Miyaabele’, an hymn to Pan-Africanism.
His music is a bridge between tradition and modernity, a constant return to the roots to recount the daily life of Senegal in depth. Thanks to his music which inspires hope and change, he has met most of the world’s prominent political figures; Nelson Mandela reminded him during a conversation that the artist’s duty is to use his voice to preach peace and cohesion between people, such advice echoing his father’s conditions from years before.
A committed artist
Aware of the artist’s role in changing society, the Podor native uses his fame to speak on behalf of voiceless people. He is a passionate spokesman for his community, an artist invested with a mission for the common good. When the Fulani massacre happened in Mali, his was one of the most audible voices raised in condemnation; Baaba Maal noted that “the Fulas have a duty of solidarity towards each other”.
In that same spirit of solidarity, in 2006 he launched the festival ‘Les Blues du Fleuve’ to put Podor in the spotlight. The festival demonstrated the cultural diversity of his home city, magnifying Fula culture and raising issues of education, health and development issues.
For decades, Baaba Maal has travelled the world using his voice and music to raise awareness, mobilise national and international support for sustainable development goals (SDGs), environmental protection and the fight against poverty and disease. He is a goodwill ambassador for several United Nations programs including UNDP, UNAIDS and the British NGO Oxfam. In 2018, he was appointed United Nations Ambassador for the fight against desertification.
This exceptional artist will be performing at the AfriCourage event on December 28th, in Banjul, The Gambia.
Listen to Baaba Maal “Kalaajo” on youtube