Baaba Maal - Television in June
Release: 1st June 2009
‘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. We use melodies and harmonies to make songs enter your mind.’
So declares the celebrated Senegalese master-musician Baaba Maal of the songs on Television, his new multi-lingual album, released 1st June. With its subtle blending of electronic dance elements with the timeless tradition of West African musical traditions, the record is a groundbreaking successor to 2001’s Missing You. The enigmatically named title-track refers to the relatively recent phenomenon in Africa of ubiquitous TV screens. ‘The television set is like a stranger you didn’t ask for coming into your living-room,’ explains Baaba. ‘You don’t care about who he is: he just seems to come from nowhere and gives you information.’
Television was produced jointly by Baaba Maal and Barry Reynolds, once the guitarist with the legendary Compass Point Studio Band, and mixed by Jerry Boys. In addition, the tune ‘Song For Women’ was produced by John Leckie. ‘I use that song,’ explains Baaba, ‘to talk about how women can be much more powerful in Africa, which can be really helpful for the entire continent. We should encourage that, and I sing about it to give them more power.’
Television has been recorded intermittently over the last three years, during which time Baaba has kept up his rigorous global touring commitments, including his work on the large-scale Africa Express project, in collaboration with Damon Albarn. As United Nation Development Programme Youth Emissary he also has been intimately involved with efforts to uplift the lives of youngsters in West Africa.
Television was made in London and Dakar, the Senegalese capital. Baaba Maal worked on its eight songs with various musicians, but most specifically in a collaboration throughout the recording with singer Sabina Sciubba and keyboardist Didi Gutman, both members of New York’s Brazilian Girls, who blend electronic dance music with a diversity of eclectic styles.
Searching for a diversified form for Maal’s music, it was Barry Reynolds who suggested he work with the pair. Immediately admiring their sound, Baaba Maal soon found further points of creative connection. Working on the song ‘Tindo’, for example, whose subject is the guidance meted out to Senegalese children as to their future responsibilities, Baaba Maal found that Sabina’s responses, sung in Italian, accurately mirrored his own lyrics: ‘‘I see language as an instrument. Sabina told me that she could just feel the meaning of the words that I was singing. This is the power of music - it can give you advice even if you do not understand the language.
‘Sabina is European but takes the name of Brazilian Girls; Didi is from Argentina, with its strong connection with Africa. I come from a tiny town in West Africa, but I’m connected to these people through my experiences, and to my English writing partner Barry Reynolds who has worked with people like Marianne Faithfull and recently, Grace Jones and Antony & The Johnsons, writing songs in different areas of life. I thought that this was a good combination, what I was looking for. I think really magical things came out of it.’