by: Baaba Maal

Reissued on Chris Blackwell's Palm Pictures label, Baayo is the logical extension of the gorgeous duet recording Baaba Maal did with fellow Senegalese guitarist and singer Mansour Seck, Djam Leelii, issued two years previously. Seck is back here, but this is clearly Maal's show. On one hand, he sticks very close to the open, droning whole-tone melodies in traditional Senegalese folk music. On the other, along with Seck and three other guitarists -- who all play in Senegal's kora-like style of fingerpicking on nylon strings and alternately keep rhythms by a series of repetitive patterns and interchangeable key signatures in chord patterns for harmonic depth and dimension -- keyboards and programming are added sparely and sparsely in certain places to beef up the percussion a bit and to layer guitars over others as well as create sonic ambience and space. None of it is over the top as it would become on his later records; if fact, it's barely noticeable. What is readily apparent is just how stunning Maal's voice is, and, when surrounded by a quartet of guitarists, how deeply he can dig in for the purpose of being a griot (storyteller), and to inspire religious faith and national pride in responding to calls to prayer, to provide for families, and to offer inspiration and example to coming generations. These are spiritual songs that reflect the joy and responsibility of a commitment to that way of life. It is quietly awe-inspiring and infectiously optimistic. Whether or not you can relate to the themes in these songs, their passion and sheer musicality will take you over. ~ Thom Jurek

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