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Baaba Maal to sing in Voices of Freedom
When the Voices of Freedom ring out on Saturday at Pigeon Point Heritage Park, one voice will ring brightly among them, steeped in the rich history of African heritage. It is that of headliner for the 6 pm free concert—internationally acclaimed spiritual singer from Senegal—Baaba Maal.
The event, which will also feature an art exhibition from 4 pm, is being hosted by the Tobago House of Assembly to commemorate the United Nations’ declaration of 2011 as the Year of People of African Descent.
Baaba Maal is regarded as one of the very greatest of all West African artists and as one whose mission extends beyond his music. The master musician has been driven by a vision of uplifting the African continent, a vision that has led him to take up the role as a youth emissary for the United Nations Development Programme.
According to the icon, “This position I have been given strengthens my determination to work harder and contribute more to improving the living conditions of disadvantaged people of the African continent, especially young people, whose future is seriously threatened by illiteracy, poverty and HIV/Aids.
“When I involve myself with Africa, my idea is of how Africa will grow into the new millennium. This is why I really wanted to make music, so more people can listen to my messages.”
To this end, in 2003 he played at the Nelson Mandela 46664 Concert in Cape Town in South Africa and, the next year, performed at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, Norway, for Dr Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan environmental campaigner who won that year’s Peace Prize.
In 2007, he played at the African Union Heads of State summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and also performed at the Live Earth Concert in Johannesburg, South Africa. In December 2010 he was a centrepiece of the World Festival of Black Arts and Culture held in the Senegalese capital of Dakar.
With his band Daande Lenol and as a single artiste combined Baaba Maal has released ten albums, beginning with 1988’s Wango. At the start of the 1990s, Baaba Maal set his standard with a succession of stylistically varied, masterly sets of material: Baayo, Lam Toro, and Firin' in Fouta; followed in 1998 by a pair of releases, Nomad Soul and a re-issue of Djam Leeli, the acoustic album he recorded with his frequent collaborator, the great guitarist Mansour Seck.
In the UK, he has consistently topped the bill at prestigious events: in 2005, he not only headlined one of the BBC proms concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall, but also Glastonbury festival and the Africa Remix festival at London’s Royal Festival Hall; in July of that year Baaba led off the Make Poverty History March at the G8 protest in Edinburgh.
In collaboration with Damon Albarn, he worked on the large-scale Africa Express project; and in 2009 he headlined the African Soul Rebels tour of the United Kingdom; he also appeared as the guest on an edition of the esteemed Desert Island Discs on BBC Radio 4.
In another field altogether, Baaba Maal created the soundtrack in 2008 for the Playstation and X-Box game, Far Cry 2; at the beginning of the decade he had fulfilled a similar function, working with Hans Zimmer, for the Oscar-winning Ridley Scott movie, Black Hawk Down.
In Senegal, Baaba Maal came from humble beginnings. But he has learned and travelled and now speaks and sings of empowerment, enlightenment and peace. Baaba’s mother was a musician who sang and wrote her own songs, educating her son in the musical forms of the era and encouraging the young Baaba to value intelligent and thoughtful lyrics.
At the same time Baaba was listening to black music coming out of America, people like James Brown, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Etta James. Later he caught up with Jamaican musicians such as Toots Hibbert, Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff.
On leaving college, Baaba toured West Africa with friend, guitarist and Griot—Mansour Seck, then lived in Paris for several years, studying at the Conservatoire des Beaux Arts. On returning to Senegal Baaba formed his band Daande Lenol (Voice of the People).
Baaba is a citizen of the developing world who has carved out a place for himself on the global stage, speaking and singing to and for Africa with unprecedented authority.
“I think the musician’s role is to give advice, to warn people, and to make them aware of what they might not have thought of themselves.”
Baaba will be joined by local maestros including: Mighty Sparrow, Black Stalin, Ella Andall along with Signal Hill Alumni Choir, Tobago Heritage Dancers and Drummers, the band Caribbean INXS and Bale Folclorico da Bahia out of Brazil.
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