Words by Nigel Williamson
This traveller has finally returned
Since 2001’s acoustic set Missing You (Mi Yeewnii), Baaba’s only new studio album in 15 years has been 2009’s Television, a bland and insubstantial affair that suggested that his best was behind him. So it’s a pleasant surprise to report that The Traveller not only stands alongside past career highlights such as Firin’ in Fouta and Nomad Soul but sounds like a mature pinnacle. It’s an exhilarating summation of Baaba’s life and vision in which finally his activism and his music are seamlessly intertwined, the personal and political woven into a single purposeful journey.
Key to this revivification are some well-chosen collaborators – principally Johan Hugo of The Very Best, who produced most of the album and who lends sympathetic electronic textures to tracks such as the pulsating opener ‘Fulani Rock’, the haunting ‘Gilli Men’ and the glistening ‘Kalaajo’. A couple of members of Mumford & Sons turn up on the surging Afro-pop dance fusion of ‘Lampenda’ and the album finishes with the diptych of ‘War’ and ‘Peace’, featuring the spoken-word contributions of British-Ethiopian poet Lemn Sissay. On first listen the two pieces sound like an odd, even jarring, coda. Yet once the shock has been absorbed, they make total sense as climax and resolution. Welcome back, Baaba Maal.
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