Baaba Maal: Missing You (Mi Yeewnii)

Baaba Maal
Missing You (Mi Yeewnii)
Palm Pictures


EVOCATIVE CAN BE a loaded word, especially when it's applied to work that conjures up a place or a state of mind you've never experienced before. But all field recordings, be they anthropological studies of a natural habitat or a you-are-there re-creation of a concert, are evocative by nature. Take Smithsonian/Folkways' extraordinary new Bosavi: Rainforest Music from Papua New Guinea, in which veteran ethnomusicologist Steven Feld compiles 25 years' worth of recordings of a community of 1,200 people living in the foothills of an extinct volcano, creating an endlessly rich three-hour soundscape.

Senegalese singer Baaba Maal, on the other hand, isn't looking to preserve history--like any artist, he aspires to make some. Not that his new Missing You (Mi Yeewnii) is particularly groundbreaking. But it's a back-to-our-roots move with the novel twist of combining both the above-mentioned approaches. The album is a quasi field recording of Maal and band performing out of doors in the middle of his native Fulani village. By leaving the recorded sounds of bustling village life and insect rattle to function as background noise, Maal aims to prove that (1) his music comes from a very specific place and (2) despite years of adding sometimes intrusive Western flavor to his sound, he hasn't lost any of his native-born brio.

The results sound as natural as breathing. Without the synthesizers that turned off traditionalists on previous albums, Maal's arrangements bloom. The chattering percussion, rhythm guitars, and kora of a track like "Fa Laay Fanaan" ("Spend the Night") manage to sound simultaneously frisky and unhurried, with an almost imperceptible blues-rockish guitar occasionally wafting through the mix. The call-and-response Maal shares with his background singers is engaging and generous. And Maal, a terrific singer even in mucked-up surroundings, is at the top of his game. Whether subtly goading his countrymen to action on "Senegaale Ngummee" ("Senegalese Get Up") or bigging-up womankind on "Mamadi," he's never less than authoritative and frequently sounds like he's having the time of his life. As for those ambient village noises, you guessed it--very evocative.

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