Baaba Maal
Credit: Matthew Donaldson

Senegalese superstar Baaba Maal has been recording for close to four decades, and at age 69 he still sounds relentlessly, almost eerily contemporary. While his first album, 1984’s Djam Leelii, features himself and his teacher Mansour Seck on acoustic guitars in a mesmerizing, fluid triumph of griot tradition, he’s since embraced electronics and transnational collaboration. Maal has forged an uplifting, soulful, and danceable Afrofuturist sound that also feels rooted in the past—director Ryan Coogler and composer Ludwig Göransson cannily recruited him to collaborate on music for the Black Panther films (and he makes a cameo as a funeral singer in Wakanda Forever). 

On his new record, Being (Marathon), Maal continues to experiment without losing his signature sound. “Yerimayo Celebration” is a deep, heavy track reminiscent of dub or the work of the innovative electronic artists released by South African label Gqom Oh!—Maal’s unmistakable vocals soar above while the bass thumps hard enough to shake your sternum. “Freak Out” is fuzzed-out dreamy psychedelia, with Maal and Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya (formerly of the Very Best) switching leads while chasing each other into the stratosphere. “Agreement,” by contrast, turns back toward the sparseness of Maal’s earliest work; while there’s a big, measured beat, the drama is in his guitar playing and his amazing voice, which moves between intimate whispers and an ecstatic call that seems to sweep into heaven itself. In a career filled with gems, this is another highlight.

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Baaba Maal’s Being is available through Bandcamp.