the original kStyle blog.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Blades From His Throat

Music reviews are no good unless you convince people to run out immediately and buy whatever it is you're getting all hot under the collar about. Actually, that's not true; I suppose there has to be room for bad reviews and mediocre reviews and lots of ambivalence and grey areas and whatnot in most reviewers' columns. But that's because most reviewers don't get to choose what they review, right? Not so for me. Here on kStyle's mothership, I have the luxury of picking the cream of the cream, as the French say in French, and only telling you about the music I consider to be among the best the planet has to offer. That said, I hope all you Floatatious PYTs ran out and bought four copies of "In Search of the Lost Riddim" (see my last review, May 7) for each one of your loved ones, so they can each give it to three more of their loved ones. An album like that, you gotta help spread the karma.

(Can you smell the arrogance? This guy must think he has the best opinions in the world!) Ahem. Just ask kStyle. She knows what a snob I am.

This time around, it's time to talk about Baaba Maal, as promised. The man with an entire set of Ginsu steak knives in place of a voice. No shit, the man's larynx can cut through nails. And I mean that in the best possible way; I was lucky enough to catch him live last month, and all through the concert I was thinking up elaborate excuses to move to Senegal and, you know, just, like, follow him around or something, Deadhead style, minus the excessive drug consumption.

He's been around for a couple of decades now and has built a name for himself recording stuff that ranges from slick, uberproduced Afro-Pop to traditional acoustic stuff that reflects his extensive education in the tribal musics of West Africa. It's the latter category that interests me the most. I think Mr. Maal is at his absolute best without any electric or, worse yet, electronic shit going on. True, even his glitzy albums have their moments, but the popular "Firin' in Fouta" album only holds my attention for about three songs, and the more recent "Nomad Soul" probably gives Enya multiple orgasms. Yuck.

Stick to "Baayo," from 1991, and "Missing You (Mi Yeewnii)," from 2001.

"Baayo" is pretty darned minimalistic. A few acoustic guitars, a kora or two, and possibly some other stringed instruments whose names I don't know. Not a whole lot of drumming. Baaba floats above these deceptively simple ostinatos. That's just about it. (A few songs feature a synthesized patch or two buried in the backgroud...but it's done in a way that is forgivable, if not enjoyable.) But, God! We've all seen impossibly gorgeous people. You know, it's like, "Hey, hold on a second. I didn't think people could actually look like that." "Baayo" is the same way. You have to ask yourself: How was such naked, unpretentious music born so beautiful? The whole album is a heartbreaker, but if you need to be convinced quick, just listen to the song "Mariama" and you will be an instant Baaba convert. Go on, I dare you.

It turns out that the cricket sound effects on "Missing You" are not sound effects. They are crickets. This album was recorded outdoors, at night, in a village somewhere in Senegal, using a high-tech mobile studio. Like "Baayo," the album is acoustic, only this time things are much more energetic and vital. There is apparently an entire battalion of drummers, along with a full choir, backing Mr. Maal up this time, in addition to all the stringed paraphernalia. Do not let the term "acoustic" fool you. MTV Unplugged has nothing on this shit, man. "Missing You" is a steamroller; take my advice and get in its way. You will hear drumbeats you never dreamt of, sliced into ribbons by Baaba's Ginsu vocals. Wow.

Hope I've convinced you to run out and buy, buy, buy, you thriving capitalist, you. Otherwise this review has been no good, according to my own standard. Seems I've been listening to more than my share of West African music of late. Perhaps next time I show up in this space, I should broaden things out a bit and talk about, say, Moreno Veloso. (Brazil. Oh yeah.) Until then, hasta whenever.


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