Baaba Maal
Photo: Matthew Donaldson / Big Hassle

Baaba Maal Makes a Refreshing Electropop Return with ‘Being’

Worldbeat master Baaba Maal’s musical homecoming on Being is not myopic or static but embraces motion through space, time, and sound.

Baaba Maal
Marathon Artists
31 March 2023

Never one to shy away from innovation, superstar Baaba Maal braids together driving beats, sublime Fulani folk, and electropop energy on his new album, Being, a fresh release from a consummate professional pushing the musical envelope. Often cited as a paradigm shifter in the worldbeat realm, Maal is irreducible to any genre in Being. He is equally a writer, producer, and performer, facilitating conversations between pasts, presents, futures, and many places. 

Being is Maal’s first studio album since 2016’s The Traveller. Since that release, Maal has moved away from his solo pop career and instead worked on projects ranging from the Black Panther film score to global sustainability and human rights endeavors. It is all remarkable work and makes his return to this format all the more thrilling. Being is only more of the same in that Maal’s “same” has always been “change”. His titular sense of being is constantly in motion, and every track here reflects the dynamism of Maal’s cosmopolitan experiences in different ways.

Opening the album is “Yerimayo Celebration”, which builds quickly from steady ngoni chords (courtesy of regular collaborator Cheikh Ndoye) to become a high-octane show of percussive fireworks (from Momadou Sarr, another of Maal’s regular bandmates) and powerful vocals. The strings sound a pulsing current here; on the subsequent track, “Freak Out”, they make for a rapturous melodic ostinato behind the reverberating voices of Maal and the Very Best‘s Esau Mwamwaya. Just as energized but far more spacious is “Ndungi Ruumi”, a melancholy farewell song laced with stinging guitar and filled with amplified echoes.

The solemnity of keeping a promise sways over ngoni embellishments on “Agreement”, which contrasts sharply with the tight meshwork of electronic and acoustic beats that back up-and-coming singer Rougi’s brilliant vocal runs. “Mbeda Wella” is an anthem of joy and positivity featuring upbeat bars from rapper Paco Lenol that leads into the graceful finale of “Casamance Nights”, an exquisite track layered with gentle bass, guitar, and backing vocals beneath Maal’s exuberant verses, winding in evocation of the titular Casamance River.

Especially remarkable about Maal’s work on Being is how thoroughly his ethos as an artist and human permeates every piece of the production. His support of younger artists feels organic amid modern electropop sounds, an essential element of his overall emphasis on collaboration. Ndoye, Sarr, and co-producer Johan Karlberg have all been longtime companions on Maal’s musical journey. On Being, Maal travels between Brooklyn, London, and Senegal, literally and figuratively, to work with a world of sonic talent. What comes of that effort, most notably, is that Maal never feels like he’s resting on his laurels. He is actively, truly being—being in conversation, being with friends, being in places—throughout the entire record. 

Ultimately, Being is about returning home and the inevitable change to any sense of place. Baaba Maal’s musical homecoming here is not myopic or static but embraces motion through space, time, and sound.

RATING 9 / 10