Out & About: Acoustic African Magic

Baaba Maal, the Afro-pop superstar from Senegal, is not only the best-dressed musician in town, decked out in long, flowing robes that emphasised his spur-of-the-moment dancing, he is also entirely deserving of his place in the pantheon of African music. Playing to a highly appreciative audience in the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square, Maal performed selections from his latest, acoustically-flavored disc, Missing You…Mi Yeewnii. Rumor has it that the disc was recorded outside in a small village in Senegal after the sun had gone down, and the slow-burning grooves evoke such an atmosphere.

The ensemble backing Maal was entirely comprised of acoustic strings, including kora and hoddu or “African guitar,” as well as acoustic and classical guitar. The result was a rich, layered sound that lacked nothing in punch. The bassist was rock solid, and though the show could have been made more exciting with the addition of a percussionist, the energy throughout was palpable. The centerpiece of the band’s sound was always Maal’s supple, soaring voice that leapt as easily as it trilled on half-tones. African bands are sometimes slightly mystified and frustrated by playing to a seated audience, but given the more mellow acoustic performance, the theater was ideal in its immediacy of contact between performers and audience. It remains a mystery why the audience at such performances by African superstars is dominated by white world music junkies, while more or less no interested African-Americans attend.

For anyone who missed Maal, or could do with some blood-warming African music to make up for East Coast weather, World Music bring Ladysmith Black Mambazo back to Sanders for their annual performance on Sunday, Feb. 10th, as well as Kandia Kouyate of Mali to the Somerville Theatre on the 17th.


Baaba Maal

The Somerville Theater

January 26

Presented by World Music

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