Africa was in the house. And Baaba Maal–the incomparable Senegalese singer, songwriter, master musician and entertainer–reigned supremely as Africa, flavored with a hint of The Americas and Europe, came together in one fantastic melange last Friday evening at The Fillmore at Irving Plaza in New York City.
Commanding the stage, Maal entertained his enamored fans royally, sharing his two great passions: his beloved homeland, Africa, and his unique music.
This magic transpired on stage as the legendary Maal lavished his spectacular, soul-stirring brand of music upon the thick-pressed crowd at the Eastside venue. Rooted in West African musical traditions, his electrifying rhythms transmitted hope, love, peace and joy.
Simultaneously, as a citizen of the world, Maal’s music was also charged with magnetic touches of contemporary global influences. This is why when Maal is in the house, Africa Sings(!!!) a world-beat dance with African rhythms. The talking drum delivers an exclusively melodious message. And the percussions explode with beautiful magic. Well, last Friday from11p.m to 2 a.m. all of this was happening and NYC was jumpin.’
Born in Podor, Senegal, Maal, a UNDP youth emissary, passionately delivered on every song during his high-energy set. In fact, his fans were so enthralled by his phenomenal performance that after his first number, “Tindo Quando,” a track on his new, highly acclaimed CD, “Television (Palm Pictures, 2009), they immediately forgave their beloved superstar for his four-year absence from the concert tour circuit.
This was so strikingly evident that at one point during the performance, as Maal’s adoring European and American fans swooned, his regal countrymen and women, descendants from the ancient Senegalese kingdom of Futa Tooro, swept past security and proceeded to the stage. Attired in the richness of Africa–gold jewelry, opulent garments and intricately wrapped geles (head wraps)–they performed their traditional ritual of placing dollar bills on the stage in honor of their great griot for excelling at his craft.
So moved was one of their middle-aged countrymen that he brazenly discussed his intentions with security, following which he rushed past them as if they were imaginary specters of the night and leapt onto the stage. As Maal sang, note for note, his countryman peeled off dollar bills, brushing them lightly on the esteemed griot’s djellaba (caftan), before letting them fall onto the floor. (And trust me, they were not $1, $5, $10 or $20 bills!)
For his part, the kingly Maal, resplendent in a flowing, textured purple djellaba (which a photographer grabbed when Maal threw it into the audience), pushed the money aside with his shoe without missing a beat as he continued to sing. Talk about unscripted high drama!
Backed by his extraordinary band, Daande Lenol, Baaba and his musicians were unparalleled. There was Aliou Diouf (drums); Mbra Cisse (bass); Ibrahima Cissokho (electric guitar); Hillaire Felicien Chaby Hary (keyboards); Cire Sall (hoddu), the spellbinding percussionst Mouhamadou Lamine Sarr; the mesmeric Massamba Diop, a genius on the talking drum; and everybody’s favorite, Baaba’s mentor, life-long family friend and spiritual guide, Monsieur Mansour Seck. In the hands of this electrifying orchestra, every note, chord and beat was beyond perfection. Truly, these highly skilled, masterful musicians, like their front man Baaba, are in a class by themselves.
On the beautiful “Tindo Quando,” the hypnotic repetition of the opening chords of the guitar immediately transported the audience back to another time and place…Baaba’s early years of playing music, just him and his guitar. He described it as: “playing…and singing; on top of that, all the things that I’m thinking at that moment.” On this song, Maal’s rich, mellow voice singing in Pulaar, the language spoken in his hometown of Podor, colored the song beautifully, as images on a screen in the background helped to paint the picture.
On the popular title track from his CD “Television,” the hook of the hip, upbeat contemporary song, a collaboration written by Maal, Barry Reynolds, S. Sciubba and D. Gutman, was obscured by the audience, who were singing and dancing to the song as if they owned it. The vivid images on the screen above the stage served to decipher the French lyrics, which seemed to go on and on like the winding, sweet-voiced Senegal River, flowing, leaping and laughing joyously like the unconquerable Maal.
“Dakar Moon,” another great track from the new album, also struck the hearts and souls of the audience. Sung in English and Pulaar by Maal, the poetic lyrics transported The Fillmore to the beauty and serenity of a Senegal night. Through Maal’s superlative performance, the rich multiplicity and range of his voice, along with Sarr’s exceptional percussions, Diop’s phenomenal talking drums and Reynolds’ brilliant guitar playing, the concert had reached its first peak. However, more climactic moments would color the early morning over and over again on “Podor Assiko,” “One Love Africa,” “Africa Woman” and “Saraca.” Yes, Maal, backed by Lenol, delivered again and again, so much so that there were no more words left to describe this wondrous experience. There was nothing except tears of gratitude and joy for the ingenuity of Maal and Africa.
Later backstage, Maal received congratulations from Kevin Mambo and Tony-nominee Sahr Ngaujah, the stars of the hit Broadway musical “Fela!,” which recently received 11 Tony nominations.
To contact the Africa Sings!!! Group please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.