Friday May 22, 2009
Continental Shift – Senegalese star Babaa Maal was one of the original icons of the 1980s world music boom, and he’s still finding new ways to cross over. By Robin Denselow
This is an important week for Chris Blackwell, the man who founded Island Records, and for Baaba Maal, the African star who still records for him. It’s the 50th anniversary of Island, and the event will be marked with a series of concerts at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, featuring everyone from Paul Weller to Amy Winehouse. For Blackwell, one of the most exciting shows will be what he calls “our Muslim night” on 28 May, featuring Yusuf (the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens) and Baaba Maal, the Senegalese veteran making his first appearance with his experimental new band. He will be playing songs from Television, his first new studio album in eight years, in which Blackwell was closely involved.
Africa has long been one of Blackwell’s interests. In the early 1980s, Island became arguably the first commercially successful world music label, thanks to its success with Nigeria’s King Sunny Adé, and the Island subsidiary label Mango later released albums by Salif Keita, Khaled and Baaba Maal. When Blackwell sold his Island empire in 1989, Maal stayed with him as the main artist signed to his new label, Palm Pictures.
The aim for both of them was to do something new with the Television album. Blackwell wanted “something different, to intrigue you and pull you in, something you can play all the way through, with one track leading to another, and interwoven together, like a very long single. Maal felt much the same: “I’m not saying I was getting bored with what I was doing before, but I wanted the chance to work with different people and have different elements in my music and in my ears.” His output has always been varied – switching between acoustic and amplified styles; his live shows have been similarly varied – but on the new album, he has done something really unexpected, by teaming up with members of the New York electronic dance band Brazilian Girls.