Baaba Maal

Missing You (Mi Yeewnii)

I’m listening to this wonderful album as I write, and it’s impossible not to time my keystrokes with the pulsing rhythms. Fans of Afro-pop music know Baaba Maal as a powerful singer who has sought to sythesize the sounds of his native Senegal with other roots traditions, from reggae to American blues. He’s been a major innovator in the Senegalese rock called mbalax, an electrified descendant of folk drumming and the epical songs of the griots, with their tales of historical personages sung to the accompaniment of the kora, or Senegalese harp.

Here he returns in full glory to African forms, though laced through with suggestions of other influences, and strictly acoustical music. Joined by 12 splendid musicians playing traditional instruments, including several kinds of hand drums, he cooks up an astonishing variety of songs, some slow and plaintive, others with an irresistible groove. He recorded the album after dark in the village of Nbunk, Senegal, using a state-of-the-art mobile system, and the freshness of the setting comes through (as do, at time, the sounds of crickets and children playing).

Baaba Maal sings in Fulani in a style that ranges from seductive to incantatory. Liner notes tells us that the songs are purposeful, ranging from a tribute to ancestors ("Yoolelle Maman") and exhortations of African unity ("Miyaabele"/"Unite") and paeans to friendship ("Laare Yoo"/"My Friend"), but it little matters: Maal speaks a universal language, one that finds joy in life even when conditions are difficult, as they are in West Africa today.Baaba Maal and his band appear at Laxson Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 28. Reviewers describe their performance as a visual as well as a vocal treat.