Baaba Maal

by Paul Fisher

In 1989, Senegalese singer Baaba Maal released an album with blind guitarist Mansour Seck titled “Djam Leeli.” A mix of two acoustic guitars, a dash of percussion and Maal’s intense singing, it was simple but hypnotic and, for many, a revelation to hear the connection between West African guitar and American blues.

Maal went on to form an electric dance band, Daande Lenol, and signed to a major label; his subsequent albums were mostly upbeat African and world mixtures. His live shows would sometimes feature an acoustic set with Seck, but so haunting was the first album that many yearned for another acoustic release. “Missing You (Mi Yeewnii)” is that album.

The sessions were recorded outdoors in the Senegalese village of Mbunk, mostly after dark, with producer John Leckie (Radiohead, the Stone Roses), who later added atmosphere and a contemporary feel to the breathtakingly beautiful acoustic set with U.K. Latin club outfits Da Lata and Sidestepper at Real World and Abbey Road studios. Illustrious colleagues including Seck and guitarist Kante Manfila lend a hand, while kora (harp), balafon (xylophone) and hoddu (banjo) expand the traditional instrumentation. Center-stage, however, are Maal’s own songs, sung with raw passion in his native Pulaar language. There are sublime melodies (“Miyaabele,” “Senegaale Ngummee,” “Jamma Jenngii”), complex rhythms with a hint of Latin percussion (“Fa Laay Fanaan,” “Laare Yoo”) and others somewhere gloriously in between. “Missing You (Mi Yeewnii)” has already set a scorching pace as world music album of the year.