10 August 2005

Baaba Maal: Palm World Voices (review)


Baaba Maal is huge. Known worldwide today, he was one of the first internationally recognized Senegalese musicians. In the west, we don't have praise-singing griots to acknowledge this, but we can put together a multimedia tribute like nobody's business. And that's just what Palm Pictures has done. The third in the Palm World Voices series, this release includes a spiffy fold-out National Geographic map chock full of photos, graphics, and info, along with a thick booklet of photos and info, a DVD, and an audio CD.

Baaba Maal has two advantages over Vedic Path India and Africa: focus and narration. Instead of giving an impression of a vast land full of varied people and musics, we get the story of one world-famous singer, in his own words and those of narrator/writer/director Robin Denselow. The DVD is smoothly edited, and gives satisfying musical segments along with bits of Maal's life at home in the 40-minute biographical film. Particularly interesting is a long road/canoe journey to Mauritania for a concert. The DVD also contains three tracks (totaling about 30 minutes) of Baaba Maal in concert at the Royal Festival Hall. The richly detailed companion map focuses on Senegal's history, geography, culture, and music. I've got to harp on details: the booklet calls the balafon a "18 to 21 string wooden xylophone...", while the mapmakers, bless their cartographic hearts, insist that the balafon has, in fact, "12 to 21 hardwood keys." Otherwise the booklet is fabulous, with a history, selected discography, photos, bits on Senegalese music and culture, and more, including transcriptions from interview segments on the DVD. The 11-track CD is a fine introduction to Baaba Maal's recent work (spanning 1992-2001). World music fans will delight in this third Palm World Voices release, easily the most focused and strongest of the series so far.

Buy it

Sample Baaba Maal video (quicktime format) from palmworldvoices.com:
"Hamady Boiro"
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