The “King of Yela” as he is often called, Baaba Maal is incontestably the most renown Fulani singer in modern time. He was born on November 12, 1953, or June 13, 1953, according to different biographers, in Podor an old town on the banks of the Senegal river. Called also Duwayara, Podor is a part of the Tooro region of Fuuta Tooro or Saint-Louis region of modern days Senegal.
Like every city or town in Africa, Podor was inhabited by different ethnic groups, Fulbe, Moore, Serere, Wolof, and Bambara, however, Pulaar was lingua franca in the city as it is in all over Fuuta Tooro.
Amadou Bal Ba had written a long article on Baaba Maal in French which was published simultaneously in his blog and in mediapart, which we partially reproduced in this post with a slight modification. He quotes Baaba Maal saying: “I was fortunate to grow up between two parents who pampered me a lot, “said the artist. His father, Baydi Maal, a former soldier and a muezzin, particularly attached to the tradition, did not have a good eye for his son to become a musician. “My father gave me everything; he was a veteran of the French army who held the rank of chief warrant officer. He understood early on that education was important, “said Baaba Maal. His father’s melodious voice, which he tones by drinking egg yolk to invigorate it when he calls to prayer, resonated very loudly in the artistic ears of young Baaba Maal. The influences on Baaba Maal while being diverse, the place of her mother, Aissata Samba Peinda Boubou Yacine Wade, a housewife, and seamstress, occupies a central place: “I also had a highly cultural mother who participated in various ceremonies, with great artistic flair. Podor is a cultural city, founded on a great ethnic diversity where Fulbe, Moors, Bambaras, Sereres, lived in harmony. “ My mother was a singer,” says Baaba Maal. Her mother was her friend, “a muse and counselor of many kinds, watching over the form and substance of his songs, suggesting opinions, correcting sequences and censoring terms she finds inappropriate,” writes, Oumar Demba BA.
Baaba borrowed many songs from his mother’s repertoire, such as “Hayo” or “Abdul Bodeejo”. Also, he says, “the love of music came from my mother. My mom liked to sing, especially when she took, all day, to wash the clothes, on the banks of the Senegal river. I listened religiously to his songs that rocked my childhood. ” The album, “Baayo” (orphan) released in 1991, is dedicated to the memory of his mother who died in 1984: “While I was in France to learn more about art and life, a bad phone call made me summoned to the house where I found that my mother was already dead and buried, my darling mother, my very loving mother ”he sings
In October 1966, after completing primary school in his hometown Podor, the young Baaba was transferred to Lycée Charles de Gaulle in Saint-Louis, to continue his secondary school. In St. Louis, Baaba Maal discovered his talent as a musician, or we should say, he was freer to exploit his potentials as a singer. “It was said that at Charles de Gaulle high school, there is a young boy who sings well, and people have started to invite us to their evening parties. It was the explosion of Pulaar culture. But singing being a profession reserved for griots,” says Baaba Maal, my father did not want me to become a singer.”
In 1974, Baaba Maal obtained his High School Diploma (baccalaureate) and moved to the Senegalese capital, Dakar. In Dakar, Baaba Maal was admitted at the Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences, but shortly after that, he switched to the National School of Fine Arts.
Baaba Maal’s love for music and singing was only matched by his passion for pulaar culture. Quickly after he arrived in Dakar, he and his longtime friend Mansour Seck, a griot by birth, joined Lasli-Fuuta, an orchestra of 70 like-minded Pulaar artists that was very instrumental in promoting the pulaar music and dance, not only in the Senegalese capital but also in many West African countries. The two left the group in 1977 to create their own group Ƴellitaare Fuuta.
Early Musical Career
Baaba Maal began his musical career in folk troupes. In 1977, Baaba Maal, Mansour Seck, and another friend, Mbassou Niang founded a traditional Fulani music group, “Ƴeltaare Fuuta” with little commercial ambition. They wanted to seduce the Fuutanke and their diaspora and for that, Baaba Maal, toured several villages to collect the folklore of the Fuutanke. Described as “king of the Yela” and inspired by Gellaay Ali Faal, and his “Pekaan”, one of the songs of fishermen who had the magic gift, to sum up, a good part of the cultural heritage of FuutaTooro, Baaba Maal hit the road (Lappol) and visited more than 300 villages in Senegal, Mali, Guinea, Ivory Coast, and Burkina Faso. He only interrupted this homecoming journey after the death of his father. The Goudiry stage in Boundou, Senegal was decisive in this collection of traditional Fulani songs. This is where he learned the Yela; this music of griots from traditional Africa, which according to him, is related to classical music, to reggae, Baaba Maal did not only listen, he also became a creator, “with a message, to educate, to situate everyone’s responsibility in society and prepare them for the challenges of the future, ” he says.
Baaba Maal a Heir and Inventor of the Modern Fulani Music
Baaba Maal, the King of Yela, inspired by traditional Fulani music, between tradition and modernity, is both heir and inventor: “The poetic and musical production of Baaba Maal, by entering into the intertextuality of the forms of Pulaar literature, has managed thematic innovations, to enrich the Pulaar genres. But Baaba Maal also benefited from the literary forms of his ethnic group. His merit lies, however, in the dissemination of ancient forms, and the modernization of the background sound. A culture rich in diversity and Islamic contributions, the Pulaar found in Baaba Maal, its faithful interpreter, ”wrote Mamadou Sam. Baaba Maal, anchored in the ancient Fulani culture, has been able to adapt to the realities of our time, by skillfully exploiting the great wealth of Pulaar rhetoric, a civilization dating back to ancient Egypt. Ranging from the rediscovery of traditional themes to the pure and hard experimentation of new rhythms, Baaba Maal mixes genres (Fulani music, Mandingo, Reggae, African American). Baaba Maal’s music manages to reproduce the essentials to mix it with more modern sounds: “I prefer to arrange my albums, an acoustic hit, an electric hit. Because I want to make myself understood and to understand where our music comes from, “says Baaba Maal. In its deep roots and its openness to others, Baaba Maal develops traditional tones, such as the Kora, while adding modern elements such as the electric guitar and skanked rhythms. Baaba Maal has brought overflowing and dynamic creative energy to Senegalese music. The artistic and literary contribution of Baaba Maal is “a reflection on education, emigration, commitment, the role of cultural identity in addressing the contemporary challenges of the peoples of Africa, respect and l ‘self-esteem, the value of culture, the role of the arts as resources and driving force, the importance of cultural heritage, its preservation, but also its fertilization’ writes Professor Felwine Sarr, in his preface to the biography by Oumar Demba Ba on Baaba Maal.
Belonging to the Toucouleur (Fulani of Fuuta Tooro) people also gives Baaba Maal a particularism that is found in his particularly rich texts. He experimented with all the styles of music of the Fulbe: the “Pekaan” of the Cubballo ( fishermen), the “Dillere” of the Maabo (weavers), the “Goumbala” or songs of the warriors, the “Daarol”, epic tale, the “Komtimpaaji” of the Ceddo , the “Fantang” exalting pastoralism, the “Wango” a distracting genre of Medda Diange, the “Lenggi”, for new brides, the “Naale” of the Gallunkooɓe, the “Saawali” of the Lawbe, the “Keroode” of the hunters , the “Leele” by Samba Diop, the “Jaanti”, mythical and initiatory tales, Islamic songs (“Beyti” or poetry, the “Daarol” or narrative, the “Tarikh” or chronicles), and of course, the “Yela “ of the Griots, of which he has become the undisputed king. Indeed, spokesperson for the Foutankan diaspora, Baaba MAAL, with his group “Daande Leñol”, the voice of the people, is an activist for the African cause and a humanist: “Served by a melodious voice and years of research, he ended up appropriating this diversified leg that he updated, to adapt it to the realities of his time, to denounce prejudices, to pass on a message, to plead a cause or to bring history to life ” writes Oumar Demba BA .
Baaba Maal on the World stage
After the creation of Daande Leñol in 1985 and his achievement of stardom in Senegal and the West African region, Baaba Maal made his first European tour in 1986 and 1987. A series of fruitful collaborations with famous artists and producers increased Maal’s popularity in the world stage. He performed with the English singer Peter Gabriel on the soundtrack of the film The Last Temptation of Christ (1989) and collaborated with him frequently thereafter. In 1989 Baaba Maal signed with the world music label Mango Records and released “Djam Leelii” with Mansour Seck and then “ Baayo” in 1991. He followed this with the disco-influenced Laam Tooro (1992) and the pop-tinged Firin’ in Fuuta (1994), for which he received a Grammy nomination for best world music album. While 1998’s Nomad Soul continued in the Afropop vein, it was evident that Maal was drifting back toward his Fulani roots. His 2001 release, Missing You (Mi Yeewnii), was a stripped-down acoustic masterpiece that utilized the ambient sounds of the African environment as a background track. Baaba Maal, was featured on the Black Panther score which won the Oscar for Best Original Music Score & Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media in 2018.
See Amadou Bal Ba’s Article: Baaba Maal et Son Daande Legnol, un musicien Humaniste, la Voix du Peuple Foutankais.