Music sustaining the soul

NATALIE FINNIGAN
Last updated 08:19 17/03/2012
tdn baba
Cameron Burnell
There a few musicians in the world who are as truly cosmopolitan as Senegal's Baaba Maal.

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Baaba Maal, a lmulti-instrumentalist, is a superstar in his home country, and has been wowing Womad punters for years.

Maal will perform at Womad Taranaki this weekend alongside a typically impressive lineup of musicians from every corner of the globe, and said although he has played seven previous festivals, he keeps coming back because there is no audience on earth like a Womad crowd.

"The ambience at these shows is wonderful - people come for more than just fun, they bring an understanding and desire for discovery that is inspiring," Maal said. It was that desire for discovery which led Maal to pursue music in the first place.

He grew up in a small fishing village called Podor on the Senegal river, and was expected to follow in the footsteps of his father and fellow villagers and become a fisherman.

But the man who says music is in every part of his being, said that as a boy he was like a sponge, soaking up every ounce of musicality he was exposed to through his mother and headmaster at school.

Maal went on to study music at university in Dakar and then at Beaux-arts in Paris, before returning to Senegal and starting a band.

That was the beginning of a career built on a foundation of friendship, collaboration, and most important, the principle of connectedness.

"I understand my culture and its history and that is at the heart of my music," said Maal.

"It is how I stay grounded and keep close to my roots." That said, Maal is almost always on the road. "I am a nomad, myself," he said with a sigh.

"I believe I take my home everywhere with me because my home is my music."

Maal describes life in Africa as a constant cacophony of sound, saying there is always music in the air.

"It can be a funeral, a wedding or a family gathering, and then it's just there in the call of the street," he said.

In Africa, music is a kind of "cultural food", because it nourishes and sustains the soul.

It's no surprise then that music is the overriding passion and purpose in Maal's life, or that he is so capable of communicating that to an audience.

"Every time I am on the stage I just try to be myself - I use music to communicate and all my life I have been learning this skill," he said.

"I project the feeling and the idea of my culture through the music, and always travel with a sense of sharing."

It is perhaps the desire to share that has compelled him to collaborate with such a wide range of musicians, some of whom are internationally renowned performers, including his countrymen Youssou N'Door and Mansour Seck, as well as pop legend Brian Eno and composer Hans Zimmer.

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Alongside his touring commitments, the prolific artist has produced an album every two or three years on average and worked on side projects such as film scores and video game soundtracks.

Then there are his social accomplishments. Maal is an important public figure representing the interests of African people and uses his position as one of Senegal's most well-known musicians to represent his country internationally.

He is a United Nations Development Programme Youth Emissary and a spokesman for Oxfam, regularly participating in fundraising and awareness campaigns relating to poverty and social issues in West Africa.

He is also part of a UN African envoy for the Millennium Development Goals, and is passionate about those relating to education, women's rights and the HIV epidemic.

"Music is such a powerful means of sharing information and ideas.

As for next weekend's Womad festival in Taranaki, Maal said people should come prepared for a nice party.

"We are African - we know how to dance and we definitely know how to make music."

- Taranaki Daily News

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