The Traveller (Marathon Artists)
In the 15 years between 2001's acoustic set Missing You (Mi Yeewnii) and 2016's The Traveller, Baaba Maal released just one album, 2009's bland and insubstantial Television. It seemed that his extra-curricular activities as a spokesperson for the United Nations Development Programme and a global ambassador for Oxfam, plus his involvement in campaigns for HIV/AIDS awareness, debt relief and other vital causes, had left him little time for making new music. So it was an unalloyed joy when The Traveller turned out to be a stunning comeback, a mature but exhilarating set in which his activism and his music intertwine into a single purposeful journey.
He brought on board some intriguing collaborators, including Johan Hugo of The Very Best as producer, various members of Mumford & Sons and the British-Ethiopian poet Lemn Sissay. But substantial as their contributions are, the real triumph here belongs to Maal. From the irresistible dance floor Afro-pop of 'Fulani Rock' and the title-track to the haunting 'Gilli Men' and the deep, sombre blues of 'Jam Jam', the potency of his voice and the humanity of his vision combine in thrilling fashion to create one of the most satisfying albums of his storied career.