Baaba Maal soaks up world's music

July 16, 1998|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Even though he has played and recorded with musicians from all across the globe, Senegalese guitarist Baaba Maal doesn't think of himself as an international musician. "I see myself just as being a musician," he says, simply.

"It's true that it feels strange sometimes to see the difference between an African audience and [audiences in] the rest of the world," he admits. "But being a musician, you have something to tell, you have something to play, you have something to sell. You just do it like you do."

Part of the reason Maal feels so at home with his art is that he grew up with both a strong sense of tradition and an equally hTC strong curiosity about the rest of the world's music.

"I grew up with the traditions," he says of his childhood. "I was listening to a lot of kinds of music since I was very young. Then I went to school, and that gave me the opportunity to travel and to play the music outside of my region."

Maal visited America and Paris as part of his studies and was pleased to meet and play with some of the musicians he'd heard on albums. But he was just as excited by the chance to learn new music and add other sounds and ideas to his own repertoire.

Incorporating foreign influences led Maal to develop a sound that went beyond the boundaries of the culture he grew up in, while keeping many elements of traditional Senegalese music. This is the eclectic approach he takes on his new album, "Nomad Soul," and Maal says making music that way comes naturally to him.

"I am someone very curious to see what's going on in music, and seeing the relationship also between African music and all this stuff I was hearing all over the world," he says. "This is why every time I make an album, it's something coming from my tradition and experiences I have by traveling with my music."

He adds that being open to other cultures is, in fact, very Senegalese. "I think that comes from the Senegalese society, which since a long time is very open to all of the stuff that comes from the rest of the world," he says. "For example, the Cuban music in the '60s was very, very popular, and the first Senegalese modern bands in the cities [were formed] just to play Cuban music. People in Senegal didn't think it was just Cuban - they thought it was African music."

Of course, Cuban music has its roots in Africa, as does much American and South American music. So it's very easy for musicians like Maal to understand how the music works and how it relates to their own musical experience. "This is why it is easy for a Senegalese musician to understand what's going on in any music that they hear coming from the rest of the world," he says.

Still, no matter how cosmopolitan Maal's aesthetic may be, he sees African audiences as his No. 1 priority. "We get some influences inside, but the base of our music is just African music," he says. "Our music talks first to the African people before talking to the rest of the world."

Baaba Maal

When: Saturday, 2:15 p.m.

Where: Decker Stage, Artscape

Tickets: Free

Call: 410-396-4575

Sundial: To hear excerpts from Baaba Maal's new release, "Nomad Soul," call Sundial at 410-783-1800 and enter the code 6186. For other local Sundial numbers, see the directory on Page 2B.

Pub Date: 7/16/98

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