by: Baaba Maal

The music of an artist's formative years can be revealing in terms of influences and background. But in most cases the outtakes from early work remains unreleased for a very good reason -- a lack of quality. However, Jombaajo proves that's not the case for Baaba Maal. Recorded during the sessions for his debut disc, there seems to be no reason these never appeared. They're fresh-faced, raw, and eager -- but passion is a good thing in music. Yes, there are touches of African reggae, mbalax, and many popular African styles, indicating he'd yet to completely find his own voice, but all the elements were already in place. Simply listen to "Baydikacce," for example, where the reggae canter of the opening explodes into soukous as good as anything that came from the Congo in the '80s, with Maal in complete control throughout. And sometimes simpler is better, as with "Suka Naayo," which appeared in a vastly embellished version on Nomad Soul. Here it's stripped to the bone, lean and sinewy, and decidedly hungry -- a much better version. Recorded in 1986, it's a fascinating, and very worthwhile, look at a star in the making. ~ Chris Nickson

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