Record Review - 3 August 29 2001

Baaba Maal's output has seen him bounce from deceptively simple-sounding all-acoustic affairs to loud, fast, high-tech cross-cultural collaborations employing big-name Western producers such as Brian Eno. After several recent albums in the latter category, Missing You (Mi Yeewnii) (me-U-knee) is a definite return to traditional roots. For most of the tracks, musicians and ambient sounds (crickets and more) were recorded live — outdoors, after nightfall in the village of Nbunk, in Maal's native Senegal — with the aid of a mobile studio and under the watchful eye of veteran English producer John Leckie (Magazine, Stone Roses, Radiohead). The album was finished at Real World Studios in England, but the feel is completely natural and African.

Contributors include Maal's longtime sidekick and griot, the remarkable blind guitarist Mansour Seck, kora player Kaouding Cissokho and 18-year-old singing sensation Cisse Damba Kanoute (aka Mami). While the pace picks up now and then, this is largely a quiet, contemplative collection of searching songs with a bluesy undercurrent about relationships, the changing nature of African identity and the effects of migration.

One standout track is "Miyaabele," a reworking of an old fishermen cry for African unity, featuring lilting balafon (xylophone) in waltz time. It's all sung in Maal's distinctive nasal voice in the Pulaar language of the nomadic Hapulaar (Fulani) people (skeletal translations in English and French are provided in the CD booklet). Mansour Seck plugs his guitar in on the hypnotic, closing title track, recorded in England, which is about missing Podor, where Seck and Maal both grew up. It's the most stripped down of all the recordings — until it lets rip at the end — yet it's the most intense. That's a testament to the power of Maal's highly polished artistry.

Baaba Maal plays Piedmont Park Sun., Sept. 2, at 7:30 p.m., as part of the Montreux Atlanta Music Festival.??