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Baaba Maal: A Griot In The Electronic Age

In West Africa, Europe and the world-music scene, the beloved Senegalese singer-songwriter Baaba Maal is a superstar. He's long been known for bridging the griot tradition of West African bards with popular music from around the globe and his newest album is no exception. Television is the product of an unlikely collaboration with the Brooklyn-based dance and electronica outfit Brazilian Girls.

Maal has a notoriously open mind when it comes to sonic possibilities. Both lyrically and musically, his songs are indelibly African (most, after all, are in his native Pular tongue), and many directly address the gamut of political concerns south of the Sahara. The fusion of traditional African and contemporary Western musical styles enriches, rather than dilutes, his griot heritage.

"When you sing songs that talk about Africa, it's not just the rhythm or the harmonies or the melody or the notes; it's also the pictures that you have in your head," Maal says. "And sometimes, the African instruments can't bring these pictures, because our instruments aren't built like that. But with the keyboard, someone working with the keyboard can bring you some sound that just reminds you of ... the movement of your people."

Television's title track is a disarmingly carefree tune about the serious implications of the growth of mass communications in Africa.

"This is an instrument we can use to make good things," Maal says. "But at the same time, it's very dangerous, because if people seem to believe that everything that passes through television is true, it falls down into the hands of bad politicians. [That's] not good for the continent."

Maal is active politically: He's championed female empowerment in Africa, HIV/AIDS awareness and African debt relief by Western creditors.

"I think African artists in general, and musicians in particular, who get the chance to travel and to have their voice very loud, should use that opportunity to help the leaders from Africa to understand what to do," he says. "And also, all the people who make the decisions around the world [need] to know exactly what Africa is expecting from them."

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