Maal lights up Africa Day event
Baaba Maal hopes to add something special to the Africa Day celebrations in Johannesburg tomorrow.
But having the renowned Senegalese artist on our shores is special enough.
Steve Sack from the City of Johannesburg put it aptly: "Baaba Maal is one of the 10 top African artists. He has been making music for almost 30 years. He is a UN ambassador. And he has a very specific sound."
Maal is one of Senegal's best known musicians globally, along with Youssou N'Dour. His recording career spans more than 20 years.
And although he doesn't sing in English, you relate to his music, imagining that he is singing about broken hearts and romance.
Maal is en route to South Africa to perform in the seventh Africa Day Concert which celebrates the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity, now known as the African Union, on May 25 1963.
Maal said the show will be different: "There will be four of us on stage. This is the first time I've performed with these musicians and done an acoustic show in South Africa. The band will be my good friends from England, Jim Palmer on acoustic guitar, backing vocals and percussion, Mamadou Sarr on African percussion and from Senegal, Mama Gaye, who is an amazing acoustic guitarist.
"I wanted to make it something special for Africa Day. This is how I started performing at the very beginning of my career with [blind Senegalese singer] Mansour Seck."
Maal did not reveal what selection of music his fans can expect.
"I don't know yet. I like to keep it as a surprise. But it will possibly be a mixture of very old songs, songs from my latest album, Television, and, hopefully, a new song as well."
One could be a song recorded with legendary musician Harry Belafonte - who calls Maal his "favourite male singer" - for a project about the US civil rights movement.
Arguably the Bono of West Africa, Maal is a youth emissary for the United Nations Development Programme.
"Most of my songs have a message or tell a story because this is our tradition. I often sing about the rights of women and the importance of education, the issues that face us today, but also of the great kings of the past."
Some of the issues close to his heart are aligned with the UN Millennium Development Goals.
He recently collaborated on a song for the Fifa World Cup titled 8 Goals for Africa.
"The eight goals, internationally agreed on, include reducing poverty, hunger, maternal and infant death by the year 2015. We performed the song at a Fifa fan park in Soweto on the World Cup final day," he said.
"I would like to see a lot more emphasis on education for all children as this will only benefit future generations. We need to build more classrooms, employ more teachers and make sure that the children have access to computers and the latest technology.
"The developed nations can help, but it must be a partnership with the local population - not just gifts. In Fulani we have an ancient saying which is 'don't give a fisherman a fish when he needs a net'."
Sack said the Africa Day concert was part of the development of Newtown: "It was about creating a space for live entertainment, but after the xenophobic attacks in 2008 the idea became more focused. It became a space to give a voice to those speaking against anti-social behaviour. It's also a way to showcase the best music of the continent."
Local artists performing at the concert include hip hop maestro Tumi and the Volume, Professor, soul artist Uju, gospel group The Soil and newcomer Toya. African artists include Olufemi from Nigeria and Namibia's Elemotho.
- The concert will be held tomorrow at Newtown Park and will be televised on SABC2 at 9pm