Baaba Maal: A Griot In The Electronic Age In West Africa, Europe and the world-music scene, the beloved Senegalese singer-songwriter is a superstar. He's long been known for bridging the griot tradition of West African bards with popular music from around the globe, and his newest album, Television, is no exception.
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Baaba Maal: A Griot In The Electronic Age

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Baaba Maal: A Griot In The Electronic Age

Baaba Maal: A Griot In The Electronic Age

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GUY RAZ, host:

The singer Baaba Maal has taken his traditional Senegalese sound and mixed it up in an electronic and dance music blender.

(Soundbite of song, "Television")

Unidentified Woman: (Singing in foreign language)

RAZ: This song is called "Television," and it's the title track of his new album. In West Africa, Europe and across the world music scene, Baaba Maal is a super star. It's been eight years since his last release. This one is the product of an unusual collaboration with the eclectic Brooklyn-based outfit called Brazilian Girls. The result is a glorious mash-up of sounds.

(Soundbite of song, "Television")

Unidentified Woman: (Singing in foreign language)

RAZ: Baaba Maal joins me from our studio in London.

Baaba Maal, welcome to the show.

Mr. BAABA MAAL (Recording Artist): Thank you.

RAZ: The title track that we're hearing, "Television," it has this dreamy, almost sort of carefree sound. But this is a political song, isn't it?

Mr. MAAL: Yes, very political because communication is one of the cues of the fight against poverty, because people need to get information even in the small places. Because, you know, people used to communicate under the trees a long time ago in the small villages, this is where people get information. Now, we see in the living rooms the screens of the television.

(Soundbite of song, "Television")

Unidentified Woman: (Singing in foreign language)

One day I went to South Africa to visit the "Big Brother" house program.

RAZ: Oh, "Big Brother," the…

Mr. MAAL: Yeah, "Big Brother" house…

RAZ: …the reality show.

Mr. MAAL: Reality show. I talked to the kids about the importance of education and people can send some SMS to say what their opinion for.

RAZ: People send text messages to the television stations and then they're sort of shown on the screen.

Mr. MAAL: Yeah, that's true. And I saw all the SMS that was send after that through the television and to say, yes, education is an important to develop Africa. I say yes, this is an instrument that we can use to make good things. But at the same, it's very dangerous because if people seem to believe that everything that pass through television is true, if it fall down into the hands of bad politicians, it's not good for the continent.

RAZ: Like so many things, it's vital and dangerous at the same time.

Mr. MAAL: Yeah, at the same time.

RAZ: There's a song on this record, it's called "Miracle," and it has this fun sound but…

(Soundbite of laughter)

…but again, there's a very serious message.

Mr. MAAL: Mm-hmm.

RAZ: This is maybe even more political. This song is about a sort of the absence, your disappointment with leadership in Africa.

Mr. MAAL: Yeah, in some countries in Africa, yes. And I agree that there is a really big gap between the leaders and the rest of the people in the some countries in Africa. And we should of just have a little bit of communication all these leaders to listen to the one who can give advices. We just want to help because we are concerned about the future of the continent, like everyone.

(Soundbite of song, "Miracle")

Unidentified Woman: (Singing in foreign language)

RAZ: We're speaking with Senegalese singer/songwriter Baaba Maal about his new album called "Television."

How did you come to work with the Brooklyn-based band, Brazilian Girls, on this record? We should mention, by the way, for those not familiar with the band they are not Brazilian and…

(Soundbite of laughter)

…it's the three of them, and there's just one girl in the band.

Mr. MAAL: It is just one girl. But the connection come through one of the people who was very important in the writing of the songs, Barry Reynolds.

RAZ: Barry Reynolds, who has been a producer of yours for some time.

Mr. MAAL: Yes. I was sitting some time with him, talking about all these issues and then pick up our guitars and start to music. He say, "I know people who really want to talk before they play. It's a Sabina and Didi...

RAZ: Two of them. Two members of the band: Sabina Sciubba and Didi...

Mr. MAAL: And Didi.

RAZ: Didi Gutman. Let's hear a little bit of what the Brazilian Girls sound like when they're not performing with you.

(Soundbite of song "Losing Myself")

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) I'm losing myself. I'm losing myself. I'm losing myself over you.

RAZ: And the sound of this band, the Brazilian Girls, is so different from yours. I mean, these are sort of electronic lounge. They've been described as chanson.

Mr. MAAL: I was not really familiar with their music. But I was looking for musicians who just travel a lot and who come from different environment than me, far away from Africa, and to see what they can bring in African music or in the music with Baaba Maal. And it was really, really magic.

(Soundbite of song, "Tindo")

I think when you listen to what Didi does, you can see a kind of work of someone who trying to find new elements in the music, new sounds, new combinations. Like a science whose experimenting different kinds of music and try to see if he can create new elements that can be really fresh.

RAZ: And Baaba Maal, that synthesis of sounds is really captured in this mesmerizing track. It's the second track off this record called "Tindo."

RAZ: Baaba Maal, you can really hear Africa and sort of Western electronic music coming together in this song.

Mr. MAAL: Yes, this song is talking about women. And I think very intellectual women like Wangari Maathai, for example…

RAZ: The Nobel Prize winner.

Mr. MAAL: Yes. And you see most of these women in all the countries in Africa, they are intellectuals and they taking their place at the frontline. And this song is talking about a proverb where they use to say, you women should stay in the houses, and raise up children, and make the food, and keep the (unintelligible) in the family.

And I say that's true. That is still true because women have the capability to do that. But at the same time, we need them. And since things are starting to change, little by little when it comes to politics or economy, this is a chance for Africa.

RAZ: You're known as somebody who's really championed the cause of female empowerment, of the empowerment of women. But your political activism goes even beyond that. You've raised awareness of HIV and AIDS issues in Africa. You've appealed to leaders from wealthy countries to forgive African debt. Do you have causes that go far beyond just the sort of small and simple ones?

Mr. MAAL: Yeah, you know, I think African artists in general and musicians in particular who get the chance to travel and to have their voice very loud should use that opportunity to help the leaders from Africa to understand what to do. You can use your position to help your public.

All these young people who come to see my concerts in Africa, they come to visit you to talk to you and they want to use your music or your position, like key to resolve their problem. And you have to accept it. And they pay it back very well to you, because the love and the support that they give to you is much bigger than any kind of amount of money that you get.

RAZ: Baaba Maal, thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. MAAL: Thank you.

(Soundbite of song, "Tindo Quando")

RAZ: Baaba Maal joined me from our studios in London. This is another track from his new album, "Television." It's called "Tindo Quando."

(Soundbite of song, "Tindo Quando")

Mr. MAAL: (Singing in foreign language)

RAZ: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. Have a great night.

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