Baaba Maal has spoken to NME about his new record, making music all over the world, and his legacy whilst hoping “the whales singing in the background aren’t too loud”.
He is set to release his 14th studio album ‘Being’ on March 31 – featuring the singles ‘Freak Out’, ‘Agreements’, and ‘Yerimayo Celebration’.
His first album release since 2016’s ‘The Traveller’, ’Being’ was created during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. With the world on lockdown “whilst this album was becoming itself”, the Senegal legend found that the key to surviving life’s ups and downs was discovering that “the most important thing is just to be”.
“Music shouldn’t be about the struggle,” he told NME. “Let things come out of our heart and soul and share it with people that will love to share.”
The arrival of ‘Being’ wasn’t “a surprise” for Maal, but “it came at the right time,” he said. While discovering the core message of the album, he also “discovered [his] family.”
Defining himself as a nomad, Maal told us how his perception of family is different, due to travelling the world.
“Family is very important, especially in Africa,” he said. “Your family isn’t just you, your wife or husband, the small amount of people that you call your family. It’s huge. It’s your community. You know your own place in society. Everyone has their own roles in society and you’ll find a way to move forward to the future together.”
He said that he felt togetherness and community spirit “are all driven by the culture, by the music we play and the proverbs we put in the music we play”. Those ideas can be found on the single, ‘Agreements’, which the musician and humanitarian said was “based on a proverb from my community”.
“Be mature enough to take seriously an agreement you make with someone about the future, about your souls being connected,” he continued, before explaining how that theme also inspired ‘[Yerimayo] Fisherman’s Celebration’.
“The track is something to keep people strong and keep people together,” he said. “Even if people go away and [migrate] to France or the United States or somewhere else in the world, you’re still connected to your community through this celebration.”
Maal is fascinated by technology, specifically social media and how it can bring the world together an instant. “Social media helps us to be [together] every day and check what’s going on there,” he said. “You can give your opinions, you can send money and participate. You’re far away, but you’re there and always a part of the celebration.”
‘Being’, like most of Maal’s music, is all about sharing stories of his home and culture with the whole world. He acknowledged that “we live in such a modern world” and hoped that social media could continue “share stories that have been trickled down from generation to generation” and “keep the harmony” between the African diaspora.
This need to connect stems from Maal’s nomadic lifestyle, and his love for cultural exchange with the people he meets. “It was only when I started to travel that I realised the world is my home,” said Maal. “I like to go and play [all over the world]. I’ll go play to some Buddhist people and see what they think about a rhythm, or even exchange some cultural information and see what they think about it.”
During his travels, he caught the attention of Mumford & Sons – before working with them on their collaborative mini-album, ‘Johannesburg’. Considering that he was then 40 years into his career, the “special journey” taught Maal a lesson.
Firstly, touring and making music with the British band was a “different environment” for the artist, knowing that didn’t have to cater to his own fans.
“It was a lesson for everyone, a lesson for me because it was not my band,” he explained. “It was someone else’s band, but you’ve got to move within it. The excitement was when we went to the studio and were like, ‘ Let’s make some music’. After this journey, we had something to give to the fans. I was so, so happy to see that they had a different way of writing songs.”
When it came to making music together, Maal said it was “challenging” as his relaxed style had to adapt to the regimented schedule of the stadium-filling band. “How I write songs; I meet my friends then, in the afternoon, we pick instruments and make the music,” Maal said. “We’ll let it go until the next time we can go to the studio. But with Mumford & Sons, they were like, ‘We have three days!’ and made at least five songs in the studio.”
As one of African music’s most significant voices, Maal has also helped create timeless soundtracks – most recently for 2022’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
“It’s still an African story so I did feel that I had to put [in music] from African musicians to make [the story] much more real for who’s going to watch the movie and hear our stories inside of it,” he said.
Using his platform for good comes with the territory for the 69-year-old musician, and he has plans to continue his humanitarian work. Maal became a Youth Emissary for the United Nations Development Programme in 2003 and has since created his own charitable foundation, NANN-K. Through messages of hope and harmony, the Podor-born artist is “trying to help young people and women find work”, he explained.
When asked about his legacy — which includes the Blues du Fleuve festival, dubbed the Glastonbury of Africa — Maal added: “Sometimes, when people picture Africa, of course, there are problems, wars, diseases like everywhere else on the planet. However, we also have the beauty of the continent, and we want to be heard. We want [our stories] to be known.
“If your face, your name, your music can help for that to arrive in the right places, it’s an honour.”
Baaba Maal’s new album, ‘Being’ is out March 31 via Palm / Marathon Artists. Check out the tracklist below.
- ’Yerimayo Celebration’
- ’Freak Out’ featuring The Very Best
- ‘Ndungu Ruumi’
- ‘Boboyillo’ featuring Rougi
- ‘Mbeda Wella’ featuring Paco Lenol
- ‘Casamance Nights’
He has also announced a one-off concert at The Barbican in London on May 30, marking his first time at the venue in 20 years. You can book your tickets here.